Monday, April 14, 2008

7460 - 7902Km: A long overdue road trip

Robert M. Pirsig took his son on a road trip with a motorbike when he was 11 years old. He traveled several thousand miles through America over a period of 17 days. I just returned from a road trip with my 7 year old daughter on a Gomoto. It lasted three days.

My wife was busy preparing for school. She had not worked as hard as she should have during the holidays. She was also adamant that she would not be able to do something in the week of public holidays that were to come. So on a whim I drew the last bit of money from my bank account and made hasty bookings for accommodation. At 11:00 on 12 April, I pulled away from my flat with a backpack, a bag, a 7 year old daughter and a teddy bear on my bike.

Pirsig spent his time on the road meditating in a Zen-like fashion on the metaphysical concept of quality. I took with me a book on the life of Tenzin Palmo, a Bhuddist nun. She was not really into Zen, but her remarkable life story really had a lot of food for thought.

First Stop: BP Garage to put oil into the motorbike. I've been a bit negligent. My motorbike is due for its 7000 km service. I have not taken it yet. And it did not dawn on me earlier that I might suddenly decide to do a road trip without doing any planning. Fortunately I checked the oil levels before I left.

11 Years of age might be the optimal age to take a child on a motorbike road trip. 7 Years is a bit risky. I managed to make it about 35 km's to the highest point of Clarence drive before my pillion became restless. So we stopped for some juice and the first photo.

Stops were relatively frequent. In fact, the whole road trip was characterized by stops.
  • Betty's Bay for a toilet break.
  • Kleinmond for some ice-cream and to play at the play area
  • Hermanus looking for refreshment, but not able to find any due to Eskom's load shedding.
  • Stanford because everything was now just too much and she was tired.
  • And finally, at 15:30, Gansbaai, our destination for the first day.

We stayed over at Birkenhead Lodge, a comfortable self catering cottage just outside Gansbaai. The cottage 6 single beds in it, an open plan kitchen with a fire-place in the kitchen, a television. There is also a communal games area and swimming pool. My main complaint was that the establishment does not seem to cater for non-smokers. There are ashtrays everywhere. As somebody who has never smoked or lived with somebody who smokes, I picked up the stale smell of cigarettes in practically every room, in the linen, in the games area... everywhere. Isn't there a law against smoking in places like these? I found it rather unpleasant.

One of the neat little buildings comprising Birkenhead Lodge.

The interior of the cottage that we slept in.

Due to obvious challenges with space on the Gomoto, I did not carry any food with me. When supper time came I almost had a mutiny on my hands with a daughter who did not want to get onto the Gomoto to go look for food. A whisper of the word "Wimpy" did the trick, however, and fortunately this eating place was only 3 minutes drive away. The heartburn lasted all night however.

The next morning we were quite happy to get onto the Gomoto again. Before embarking on the road to our next destination we explored the coastal area around Danger Point where the historical HMS Birkenhead hit a rock in 1852. Several hundred people perished on that night.

A view over a bay to the Danger Point Lighthouse

The Danger Point Lighthouse

Unbeknown to us a similar tragedy was taking place a very short distance away from where we were riding with our bikes. A catamaran, carrying 9 tourists to a shark cage diving adventure was struck by a freak wave. It capsized and 3 tourists lost their lives in the incident. On the way out of Gansbaai we were passed by two emergency vehicles hastening to that scene.

One of my goals for the road trip was to try to see some birds. I took my binoculars with me, but I did not remove them from the bag once! The challenge was to keep the seven year old passenger happy. And I was ready to thank the deities of all parents who take their children on a Gomoto Road Trip when I came upon Klein River Cheese, just outside of Stanford. They have a beautiful picnic site with lots of activities designed for bored motorbike passengers.

We spent 45 minutes there and ate another ice cream.

Then we hit the road to Caledon. Again the motorcycle angels sent us some entertainment. We found poor herp on the road and I was able to engage in some intellectual conversations on biology, ecology and metaphysical questions on death. As soon as I can find the exact Longitude and latitude for this location (exactly 15 km's out of Stanford towards Caledon/Riviersonderend), I'll post the picture on the website for herpetology in Southern Africa.

I loved the scenery on the road to Caledon. And my passenger was kept busy trying to spot all the kilometer markers on the road. (I did not see any Blue Cranes. I did see a Black Harrier though.)
Overberg Landscape somewhere between Stanford and Caledon

Finding a place to eat on a Sunday Afternoon in Caledon is a challenge. I finally found a restaurant at the entrance to the flower garden and we had pizza for lunch. We eventually made it to Greyton, our destination for the day, by 14:30.

In Greyton we stayed at Auberge B&B. For somebody who does road trips on a Gomoto the accommodation was very luxurious! And since I live in a flat, the song of the cricket that was hiding away behind a stack of wood in the fire place was like a symphony that played through the whole night.

A word of warning! Do not travel to Greyton on a Sunday Afternoon if you do not have any cash with you. There are (at least) three ATM's in Greyton. They are however all inside shops. The shops are closed on Sunday Afternoons. At 17:00 my daughter became hungry and I realised that there were no shops to buy some rolls and almost all the restaurants (there are many of them) were closed for the evening. Our choice was Pizza at The Old Mill or a meal at the Greyton Lodge. I ate a vegetarian lasagna. The dogs at the Greyton Lodge are much better entertainment than any jumping castle at the Spur, or McDonalds, or Wimpy.

On Monday morning the mountains had dissappeared. There were clouds everywhere. We left quite early and drove up the Riviersonderend valley to Villiersdorp. My daughter was really cold, so we drank some tea and ate some scones at a coffee shop. I felt a bit intimidated by the large fruit trucks on the road to Grabou. I decided to take a slightly longer route via Franschhoek and Stellenbosch back to Somerset West.

I was 20 minutes late for my 13:00 meeting. My rear end is a bit sore. My passenger was very well behaved and enjoyed the outing with her dad. She has better rear end padding, but sounded a bit hesitant when I mentioned that I'd like to take her for another ride on the Gomoto. I cannot wait for the next opportunity.