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We were greeted at Johannesburg Airport in South Africa with news of a very heavy depression, there had been 3 weeks of heavy storms resulting in flooding in many areas. Fortunately it was not raining on our arrival just very wet under foot.
However yours truly had a major problem in getting mobile, as prior to flight departure all cycles have to be prepared for the plane by turning the handlebars round and removing the pedals. My problem was that my pedals which should have been in my carry on luggage were NOT. So after going through my bags twice it gradually dawned on me that they could only be at the campsite in Argentina where I had removed them.
So after seeing all my companions cycle away from the airport for the 6 Kilometers ride to our Hotel I was destined for a 3 hour wait until a lift was available from one of the tour support vehicles. It was 2 days before I was able to get to a bike shop to buy new pedals and in the meantime I was able to borrow a pair from the tour mechanic.
It was 7 days later that the missing pedals turned up in the lost and found box in our support van, it appeared that a staff member had picked them up before the final departure from the campground in Argentina. So I now have a spare pair of pedals in my luggage and will not make that mistake again.
Let me say that when we first arrived in South Africa there was for me, almost a touch of nostalgia in the air and it was just like home. First of all we were able to cycle on the right side of the road (sorry the left). Then I was able to enjoy my first decent cup of tea since December, almost everyone here spoke English, and finally it was raining.
The first 12 days in South Africa were hectic and traumatic to say the least and will not be forgotten by me or any of my companions. Prior to our arrival in South Africa, Mozambique and the surrounding regions had been battered by a cyclone coming in from the Indian Ocean. This had a major effect on Odyssey 2000 but more on that problem later.
The day of arrival in Johannesburg was down on the Itinerary as a rest day, but there was very little time for R & R as I did not arrive at the Hotel till 5 pm and the next day we were off on day 47 to Middleburg a distance of 154 Kilometers. Whilst the rain kept off for the next 2 days we were riding into increasingly strong winds and by the time we arrived at Hazyview 3 days later we were ready for another layover day.
Prior to our departure from the England my sole UK companion John and I had made a reservation for a two day safari at the Kruger National Park which is a 3 hour drive from our Hotel at Hazyview. It appeared that many other Odyssey riders had done likewise, but what no one had anticipated was the damage which had been caused by the heavy storms and subsequent flooding. Due to bridges being washed away and roads under water our Safari had to be rescheduled to another location. Fortunately this was not a major problem when you consider the size of the Kruger National Park (equal to the size of Wales )
Our Safari (late evening and early morning) was designed to enable us to see the many animals, some of them nocturnal in natural surroundings from elephants to tigers, giraffes to impala. Speaking of the impala I would to reproduce something which caught my eye whilst in the Park as follows :
EVERY MORNING IN AFRICA AN IMPALA WAKES UP SHE KNOWS THAT SHE HAS TO RUN FASTER THAN THE LION OR DIE EVERY MORNING IN AFRICA A LION WAKES UP HE KNOWS THAT HE HAS TO RUN FASTER THAN THE IMPALA OR STARVE IN FACT NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE WHEN THE SUN COMES UP IN AFRICA YOU HAD BETTER START RUNNING.
We had been warned on the daily route guides that our Itinerary in South Africa would cover some pretty demanding terrain, but that it also included some of the most beautiful country in the World. It promised to be hot, remote and mostly rural without too many full service areas. Many of the country roads do not have a shoulder and can be quite busy.
So this was the advance warning of what to expect, in reality what we did not expect was the knock on effect from the recent cyclone coming in from the Indian Ocean to hit Africa in general and Mozambique in particular. Add to this we had the warning of the high level of crime, muggings, and even car high jacking. It was in fact inadvisable to walk the streets of any large town alone.
So following our Safari and 2 day break at Hazyview the Itinerary took us for 2 days into Swaziland where we were due to arrive on day 53 prior to a 5 day ride to Durban. However on day 54, 75 of the Odyssey riders including yours truly found ourselves in Durban.
So why did we arrive in Durban on Weds night (late) when we were not due till Saturday ? good question. Well, on day 53 (Tuesday) after 703 of the most demanding kilometers in South Africa we arrived for our 2 days in Swaziland, that particular day was 169 Km. Ever since leaving Johannesburg we had been buffeted by strong headwinds, periodic storms, and in between temps in the high nineties. This was the edge of the cyclone which had been battering Mozambique. However Tuesday day 53 was a very hot and hilly day with 2 mountain passes over 6000 ft and yours truly (along with many others) were feeling a trifle stretched to the limit at the end of that day. The final straw that broke the camels back was a heavy storm as yours truly was trying to put up his tent in the dark. The outcome being that the tent was so wet inside and out that I had to sleep with others on the floor of the washroom at the campsite. The next morning it was still raining heavily and looked set for the day.
So that is why I am now at the Holiday Inn in Durban overlooking the Indian Ocean enjoying a few days of R & R. Basically morale had got rather low among a lot of Odyssey folk by Tuesday to the extent that 75 of us hired 2 coaches to transport us plus bikes and luggage for the 9 hour drive down to Durban (cost worked out at approx. 16 pounds each and well worth it) As you can imagine with 75 bikes and luggage it took nearly 2 hours to load the coaches. So with another hour spent at the border getting back into South Africa plus getting food for the journey we eventually arrived at Durban around 10 pm, luckily it is out of season here so most of us got into the Holiday Inn and the cost? for 3 sharing a room a massive 10 pounds PP per night and well worth it.
This break gave us an opportunity to catch up on washing, correspondence, replace numerous items on the bikes which were showing signs of wear after nearly 5000 Kilometers. Another problem which is of some ongoing concern among our party is the very high crime rate in this part of South Africa where we are advised not to travel alone and muggings are a regular happening. Two of our party were involved in 2 separate incidents, fortunately no one suffered any injury or loss of personal items.
Having said that the Odyssey party are given tremendous welcome at almost every town and community we visit not just in Africa but from Costa Rica to Chile. Young children in particular stand in large groups cheering and clapping. There have been concerts and dancing displays laid on during or after supper. In Dullstroom, ( South Africa ) for instance a newspaper report on our visit went as follows :-
It was a misty Thursday 17 February when Odyssey 2000 cyclists trickled into Dullstroom - a month and a half and 4500km into their year long cycling expedition around the world. The first to arrive was 19 year old True Brown form Vermont, soon followed by close on 300 cyclists aged between 18 and 80, and their vast support team.
From the supper queue at the Dullstroom Inn, came many a jovial remark: "The people in where-are-we? South Africa - are very hospitable. We took a wrong turn coming out of Johannesburg and were waved back on track by supporters. At our first checkpoint a local farmer was handing out free cokes to all of us."
The group were welcomed by singing children from the community and Dullstroom's mayor, Isaac Mthombeni. They were heading for Hazyview and the Lowveld.
Durban is a beautiful City on the Indian Ocean with many clean beaches which makes it a popular holiday destination. In spite of the apparent prosperity there is still much poverty and unemployment. My personal thoughts are that politicians need to review their priorities when you see 8 to 10 year old young children sleeping on the streets at 10 in the morning.
So tomorrow Sat we transfer to another hotel 3 blocks away where Odyssey is booked in for 2 nights and await the rest of the crowd who will no doubt be still struggling with the elements. Then on Monday we commence the 16 day trek down to Cape Town, at least that was the official Itinerary.
However the official itinerary for that period did not leave any spare time for sightseeing with only one rest day plus one day off in Cape Town before flying to Athens. some of us were feeling that a short break from Odyssey was advisable. It was a combination of factors which prompted this idea. Firstly it was the uncertain weather conditions, then we got to hear about the Cape Argus cycle event due to take place in Cape Town on Sunday 13th March which was 2 days before the arrival of the Odyssey party.
We also discussed the press report of record rainfall for Port Elizabeth,(on our route to Cape Town) which had set a record in which the rainfall for Jan / Feb was equal to half the annual average. Many streets were flooded and motorists were asked to exercise caution Then we had to consider the advice that from Port Elizabeth onwards, in particular the Garden Route to Cape Town there was much to see and do. With only one rest day in Cape Town on 15th March the official Itinerary did not leave any spare time for sightseeing. So a number of Odyssey riders including yours truly agreed to go off route and do our own thing for the next two weeks. Plus the fact that on Sunday 12th March there was this very big bike event taking place in Cape Town which some of us were interested in taking part. This event (classed as a race) but more like a major Audax cum charity ride is known as the Cape Argus Cycle Tour which takes in a 109 Km very scenic and hilly route around the Cape Peninsular.
There is a time limit for completing this ride of six and a half hours, and until today there had been some doubt as to whether we were too late to get an official ride. Entries closed we were advised on Jan 14th or when 35.000 entries had been taken. However thanks to a local Cycling Club we were assured of at least 3 places. We later heard that approx. 20 Odyssey riders have been accepted. According to the local press the Argus Cycle Tour is one of the largest amateur sporting events in the World, and in 1999 the event attracted over 30.000 riders from all over the Country and beyond. There were in the end approx. 50 Odyssey folk who rode the 110 kms Cape Argus Cycle Tour (race) along with 35.000 other folk including quite a number of international riders several from the UK . Whilst I did not see him in person I understand that CTC President Phil Ligget was also doing the ride as he had been here to commentate on the 5 day Giro del Capo professional race which finished here in Cape Town on Saturday.
A number of the riders in the pro event were riding on Sunday by invitation starting at 6 am they were followed by all the seeded riders and from 8 am the remaining riders were dispatched in groups every 4 minutes. Every individual rider was timed with a transponder fitted to the right ankle and whilst I do not have the official time for yours truly my estimate would be around 4 hours and 30 minutes.>
This event covers some fantastic scenery although there was a change in the route from previous years because of a rock fall on Chapmans peak which killed local man a few months ago. I understand that there were around 1416 meters of climbing in total and there was an estimate of around 200.000 spectators around the course including jazz bands and scantily dressed dancing girls. Can't think why but several Odyssey riders were suggesting we make this event an annual ? reunion. I for one will be back next year (2002).
One item in the news after the event which caused a laugh (not to be seen in the UK ) was the fact that much of this ride takes in a State National Park on the Cape Peninsular. There could be seen at several points a warning notice to the public NOT to feed the baboons. However on one stretch of the route there were baboons trying to cross the road and could not because of a continual stream of cyclists. The baboons I understand finished up throwing banana skins at the peleton. So this was a fitting climax to our final two weeks in South Africa it really is a beautiful country with Cape Town and surrounding area as the jewel in the Crown. An area, which I hope to return for further exploration.>
It was day 75 on 15th March with a total of 7317 Kilometers completed that the Odyssey cavalcade assembled at Cape Town International Airport for the night flight to Athens for the start of stage 5. The next stage will takes us from Athens to Barcelona it will last for 44 days and will be the longest yet
My next report will also contain a response to the many email enquiries which I have had from folk who would like to know more about Odyssey what is it that attracts folk to give up a whole year of their life, and will there be another one. ?
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