When you’re spending a week riding a motorcycle through one of SA’s wildest places, you want three things at the end of the day: a hot shower, a comfortable bed and wine. We had all of these – and much more – during a recent trip to the Baviaans.
We might have come away with our bike and butts broken, but the beauty of this wilderness area in the Eastern Cape – and the warmth of the people who live there – ensured our spirits were always intact.
Our trip started luxuriously. We gunned it from Cape Town to Willowmore on the smooth tar of the R62, stopping to sip coffee in Barrydale, breathing in the scent of apples and fynbos, before landing in the soft lap of The Old Jail. Lovingly restored by Karen and Oleg, this newly opened guest house sits in a garden so green and lush it makes your eyes hurt. For two days, we were happy prisoners, surrounded by antiques and artworks that lend a rich atmosphere to a building with a fine history.
Built in the 1880s, the stone building originally operated as a jail until 1960, after which it remained uninhabited for long periods. Now, it sparkles with life – and humour. During the refurbishment, Oleg and Karen retained the layout of the various cells and furnished them with suitable pieces. In the Hospital Cell, the elegant room features a beautiful antique hospital table.
The dungeon is now a wine cellar, complete with heavy chains and old handcuffs, while the hard labour wing is a cosy entertainment den.
And while inmates would have been served gruel and the odd lashing, guests at The Old Jail are treated to fresh, delicious meals and the warm, friendly companionship of the prison’s new wardens.
By the time we set off on our next leg – to Patensie – Karen and Oleg felt like old friends. A good thing, too, because during the next 200km the knowledge that they were within reach was often reassuring.
We had been warned the T2 road from Steytlerville to Patensie was rough and only suitable for 4x4s. But what people forgot to tell us was that a large section of the road can barely be called a road. It’s more like a river cutting strewn with rocks and boulders, traversed by deep, muddy gashes. We fell. A lot. The bike got lodged in ruts. It got stuck in mud.
It pinned us down. I saw a green snake. I laid stones under the back tyre as B revved and spattered the bike out of bogs. After falling for the third time, a local farmer came tearing up the hill on a scrambler, hauled me on to the back of his bike, deposited me at the top of the hill, then tore back down to help B untangle the bike from yet another honeybush tree. It took us eight hours to ride 200km.
It was thankfully dark when we stumbled into Tia Ghee bush camp. We looked like swamp monsters. However, after a hot shower and a hearty three-course meal served at outside tables, we settled in front of the fire where we lapped up the silence of the bush and the warmth of Kobus and Estelle’s hospitality. They made us laugh, listened to our tales of the road and escorted us along a path lit by paraffin lamps to our tented lodgings, where we fell into a warm, comfortable bed.
After scoffing a huge breakfast – and paying a tiny bill (R360 each for dinner, bed and breakfast) – we bumped our way back on to the main road and headed for the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve.
It’s a mega paradise: rugged hills topped with spiky aloes, gorges flowing with clear rivers, sheer cliffs, shady corners, bearded forests and red, crumpled rock. Best of all, because it was a weekday, we had the place to ourselves. The dirt road is rough at times, but nothing like our T2 nightmare, and B revelled in the fact that he conquered some serious water crossings. I revelled in the fact that I out-stared a large, green leguaan.
However, our triumphant glow faded as fast as the daylight when, 20km from the remote cottage we had booked outside the reserve, the bike’s back shock absorber smoked – and died. Again, we limped towards the warm glow of our accommodation. And, again, a kind soul – this time, farm manager Willem – settled us in, fussed over us and ensured we weren’t wounded.
But even if we’d broken our legs, we would have still been the happiest of campers. Just For Two Cottage is perfect. Built in the 1880s, it is an earthy, simple clay-and-stone abode powered by solar energy, with an outside bathroom that opens up to a ceiling of stars.
We spent the next day hiking up the gorge, swimming through cold pools of water to reach a cascade of waterfalls. We counted our bruises: me 12, B 3. Who said riding pillion is for pussies?
To return, B slowly rode the bike the 250km to George, while I hitched a lift to Willowmore with a couple from Parys, then got a ride to George in a goods truck that had been delivering cement and tins of viennas.
For all our cuts, scrapes and bruises, our falls at nightfall and our mud-clogged clothes, I would do it all again.
If You Go...
It is advisable to call the Baviaans Tourism office at 044 923 1702 to check road conditions.
l The Old Jail: Tel 076 792 0622; e-mail [email protected]; www.theoldjail.co.za
l Tia Ghee: Tel 082 774 1805;
e-mail [email protected]; www.tiaghee.co.za
l Just For Two Cottage: Tel 081 334 4110; e-mail [email protected]; www.baviaan.co.za - Sunday Tribune