“Four chiefs and five Indians” have assembled under the old slave tree at the historic Moravian Mission Station in Mamre. The “Indians”, myself, Ethene Zinn, Peter Schumann, Arnaud de Villiers and Joy Woodward, are about to embark on the Wheels of Time tour.
Then there’s Ivan Groenhof, the project co-ordinator and mentor. He will oversee the whole operation. Roger Cresswell is the driver of the supply van, which will bring up the rear with our luggage, refreshments and spare bicycles. Kelson da Cruz is our tecchie and Morgan Sambaba the guide. They are our able support team of four.
Morgan tells us a bit about the history of the town.
“The area started off as a military post in the 1700s, to protect cattle farmers. It became a mission station in 1860. Mamre, from Genesis, means praise the Lord.”
“Vamos!” We’re practising our Portuguese on Kelson, who is Brazilian.
Day one takes us through undulating farmlands from Mamre to Darling. Up hills, down hills. Open gates. Close gates. We disappear into potholes. We get punctures. Chains come off. “Nao aiproblema,” Kelson cheerfully repairs them in no time.
We pass a herd of calves. They’ve all got names written on their ears, all the same name – Koffie. Did all the koffies come from the same mother, I wonder.
Our first watering hole is the historic wine farm Groote Post. True to form we head straight for the wine-tasting room. During our picnic under the oak trees Morgan points out the cannons, now decorative, similar to those early settlers used to communicate news both good and bad.
“They were within earshot of each other and relayed messages from Signal Hill all the way up the coast. If, for example, three shots were fired, a friendly ship would be arriving within three days and traders would know to get their goods to the coast,” he explains.
We cycle on. What gets me is that I have to pedal downhill because of the sand. That’s too depressing.
I flag down Roger in the sweeper van. The others can cycle if they want to. It’s 33ºC out here. And two days before I had bi-sukkeled 65km of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in sweltering heat around the Peninsula.
Roger’s van follows the cyclists. He is constantly in radio contact with Kelson.
“Roger calling Kelson. Roger! Over!”
“Roger! Kelson calling Roger!”
I manage to sleep through all this jabbering. This is my idea of slack-cycling. Civilised.
Then panic strikes. Two spare bikes are missing off the trailer. We count and recount the bikes. They must have bounced off on the rough road beyond Groote Post.
Roger and Kelson go flying off to retrace our route. They return. With bikes. Just shows how rough the roads were.
We overnight at Thali Thali, a game farm outside Darling. Our chefs, Tannie Caroline and her niece Natasha, produce an amazing seafood potjie served on a bed of rice. And malva pudding with custard. We deserve all this pampering, having cycled 43km that day.
A miracle morning sees us on top of Seeberg, in the West Coast National Park, overlooking the Langebaan lagoon.
It’s early and thick fog blankets much of the view. Our chefs arrive with all the trappings to produce breakfast, complete with fresh carrot and apple juice, potato hash and eggs. Definitely something to write home about.
Our ride is easier today.
“Vamos a la playa!”
We rattle down Seeberg to the edge of the lagoon. From here we take the “white road” along the eastern shore.
“This calcrete track was the original road linking Saldanha to Cape Town,” Morgan tells us. “The journey took about three days.”
The fog has lifted slightly, and every now and then we see ostriches frantically escaping our approach. A herd of springboks leap across the road ahead of us.
We stop at Mooimaak for tea and a swim. The water is surprisingly warm. It is so shallow you want to walk across to Churchhaven on the far side.
Ivan points out tiny tortoise shells lying in heaps along the track.
“The crows kill the tortoises by dropping them onto the road, then suck out the insides.”
They’re a distressing sight, these little middens of shells. In my next life I don’t want to be a tortoise.
We reach Geelbek information centre at the edge of the lagoon at midday. The centre boasts a replica of Eve’s footsteps, the fossilised evidence of early man on these shores.
Ivan also points out an early VOC boundary marker on the edge of the lagoon.
Roger meets up with us – sometimes he has to take different routes from ours. We count and recount the bikes on the trailer. We can’t believe it. We’re missing a bike. Again.
“Just as well this isn’t a 12-day trip, there won’t be any bikes left,” quips Arnaud.
Our chefs don’t disappoint and arrive with fresh bread and stunning salads. I could get used to this.
After lunch under the trees we cycle in a southerly direction. Gemsbok stare at us from a distance. We eventually meet up with Roger. The bikes get loaded on the trailer. We do a head count. OK. We’re all here. A bicycle count. None missing. Looks like we’ve mastered the art of securing the bikes on to the racks.
Our last supper is in Yzerfontein at the Kaijaiki Country Inn. Our Dutch host René produces poffertjies as a starter and the best nasi goreng I’ve ever tasted. The others decide on fish or steak and there are appreciative murmurs all round.
Day three and we meet Christa at the Old Salt House information centre in Yzerfontein. Photographs of earlier times adorn the walls.
“There was a rail linking the salt house with the nearby salt pan,” she tells us. “Donkeys pulled the coco pans laden with salt up to here.”
There’s a lime kiln nearby.
“From the time of the Dutch East India Company kilns like these were used to burn mussel shells. The residue was sifted to extract a fine white powder which was mixed with animal fat to make lime wash (gebluste kalk) for painting buildings,” she said.
We cycle south along a gravel track, all along the coast through pristine strandveld fynbos. Yellow thistle-like blooms form a spectacular backdrop against the white dunes. Dassies scurry for safety along the cliffs.
The track swings inland.
We cross the R27 and reach the !Khwa-ttu San Cultural Centre.
This is a place of gathering and learning for the San across Southern Africa. Videos and photographs record San history over 2 000 years.
For the San people “once upon a time” is now. The past is present.
After lunch (mine is a delicious springbok carpaccio) Roger drives us back to Mamre, to our cars and to the present.
Our Wheels of Time have done the full circle. From modern, through the millennia, and back.
The Cape West Coast Bioshpere also offers the Darling Stagger, some hiking trails and the Berg River Canooze. Proceeds go towards improving and managing the paths and environment and growing the local economy.
Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve trails: call 082 475 6101,e-mail:[email protected] Trails bookings: 0861 872457,e-mail: [email protected]; website: www.capebiopshere.co.za/trails; Facebook: https//www.facebook.com/CWCBTrails; Twitter: @CWCBTrails - Weekend Argus