We left the Protea hotel in Capetown on the 13th May. Just two days after our arrival and we were back on our bikes. We weren’t going far the first day. – just 1.6 kilometres – but it’s amazing how significant such a small journey can be.
Having been on the road for four months with lots of other riders and a support crew (over 90 people at the peak) we were about to be independent once again. Goodbyes said, contacts exchanged and a gradual succession of taxis and bicycles making their way home. We were doing our own 10 day bike tour – one I had thrived off thinking about and planning since arriving in Cairo.
While I have no regrets and, despite struggles, many happy memories of TDA and good friends as a result, it was surprising even to me to be so conscious of the large smile I felt just as we turned from the hotel carpark. I was free.
The feeling was overwhelming. A sense of an emotion that had been contained. We had two weeks left in South Africa and could go where we wanted, when we wanted…..or so we thought.
So, heading off on our own route plan we soon found we were not on quite the road we had anticipated and instead we pedalled furiously for around 15km. We were on one of the main national highways out of Capetown and while legal (we were indeed overtaken by a number of police cars) we were in effect on a motorway!
So, we were going where we wanted, when we wanted but right now we wanted to be going somewhere else. Welcome to the long distance bike tour! Carrying detailed maps for all areas you plan to ride through is impossible. Reliant on directions, general area maps or free maps from the tourist office it’s not always easy to find the best roads. Still. This method had been fine in India so I’m sure it would be okay here too?
Having finally found a local road we were off again, heading towards Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch. We were meeting friends and partaking in a little wine tasling. Happy days and a very happy welcome to a self planned ride. It felt good again and while weight gain now seemed inevitable (I would not be leaving Africa any slimmer!) we were back on our own and riding.
From the wine region we were heading south – to the coast, down to the point and into to Capetown again before returning home for a short break.Back to going where we wanted, when we wanted .. yet a slight hiccup was about to occur.
Unknown to us we were about to cycle past what is reputed to be one of the largest growing townships in South Africa and it seemed not everyone felt this was safe thing to do. We were heading down the N2, passing Khayelitsha, out on the Cape Flats. Housing around two million people (so we were told) the site would spread out over to our right in just a few kilometres. We were blissfully unaware yet someone was trying to grab our attention.
Having ignored the man trying to flag us down on two occasions he now noted from the truck window that the road ahead was not safe on our bicycles. Catching up to John and sharing this news we decided to stop and he explained about the township and recent bad events. That said, not wanting to be vunerable, we remained ready to push off at any time. I still hold that travelling like this is about avoiding the very small percentage of “baddies” . We just needed to be clearer on this and the driver, sensing our hestitation, pulled over someone else to confirm what he was saying.
Ten minutes later we were sat in the back of his truck with bikes and kit loaded as he drove us past the “danger zone”. It seemed we could go where we wanted, when we wanted but not how we wanted. I really struggled with this and while wanting to be safe I felt saddened and awkward as we were driven past this essentially black area.
I was still at school when Mandela was released. Aware of South African apartheid yet growing up in Birmingham – a very mixed community. I just don’t get this sense of the “Ubermensch” – a superman . I look back with a sense of nostaligia to the absence of treats in Sudan. It levelled things out. While this is a little rose-tinted I will always hold to a view of creating opportunities for all as a critical part of a thriving community. That’s why I enjoyed work in social enterprise start-up before embarking on this trip and right now I wanted to know and understand more about how life was here.
As we continued our bike tour back to Capetown this day passing Khayelitsha played on my mind. I asked many people whether we did the right thing taking a lift and it seemed it perhaps was a good decision despite the unease it caused. Khayelitsha was a part of the movement of black people to the Cape Flats that began in 1966 as areas, such as district 6, in Capetown, were cleared out for whites only. I loved South Africa. The Western Cape had stunning scenery, amazing food and friendly folk yet I felt uncomfortable about its history. Looking back, as we celebrated the world cup people were losing their homes just because of their skin colour.
It’s funny how my overwhelming sense of freedom came in a country where for many the fight for this had been such a recent struggle and knowing how great my 1.6 mile journey had made me feel I can only imagine what the end of apartheid had meant for so many.
There’s still some way to go but there is a sense of opportunity and I like that. I’ve bought a book written about the township to understand more and having thoroughly enjoyed my final two weeks in South Africa I would love to return. I hope that when I do those people from district six currently making claims for their land will be successful. I hope they get to be where they want, when they want.