''1 x 1200GSA''
Ben & Sandra Saaiman [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/benna Benna]
''1 x 1200GS''
Steve Thomas [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/stevet Stevet]
''2 x 1150GSA''
Daantjie & Anel Taljaard [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/daantjie Daantjie]
Andy Connell [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/andyman Andyman]
''2 x 1150GS''
Charles Oertel on the Badger [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/charles Charles]
Brendan Buurman [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/Brendan Brendan]
''1 x F650GS''
Anne Connell [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/user/annie Annie]
The trip was 'unorganized' by Daantjie Taljaard with 'no backup vehicle'. All to carry own homesteads and own food.
Our Google Route
Andy & I met up with Brendan, Charles and Steve at the Winelands Engen at 7am, then headed on for Paarl to meet up with Ben and Sandra. We stopped and waited there for a while and then, when they arrived, we took the Old DuToitskloof Pass to Worcester, with the wind buffeting us around.
Waiting for Ben & Sandra in the shade of Du Toitskloof old pass
Ben & Sandra arrive on their new bike
In Worcester we met up with Daantjie and Anel. Worcester Shell 1-stop was overcrowded with holiday makers. Most of us topped up with fuel here.
Shell 1 stop Long stop
We wasted a little time waiting for Charles' breakfast pita and wondering whether the 1200GSA stopped by a cop just opposite was planning to be part of our group. It turned out he was not (he had been stopped because he had an odd customized numberplate "MC de Monago" decorated with stickers - probably not the type to rough it in the Karoo anyway). So we got away a little late and breakfasted in Montague, where �ndjilien served us a hearty Route 62 and Route 66 breakfast. However, this place was also overcrowded, and so quite a bit of time was wasted here as well, be it very pleasantly!
Daantjie and Anel en route to Montague
Easter Traffic gave us a few hairy moments
We decided to deflate and switch off ABS outside the shop, as the dirt road turnoff was quite close. By now we were peeling off our extra early morning layers.
And off we went, following Daantjie to the Ouberg Pass turnoff - left about 5kms outside Montague. A short while later we took another left turn onto our 1st dirt.
Sign at the top of Ouberg pass
We traversed the beautiful, winding and dusty Ouberg pass for many kms, stopping a few times to regroup.
"Turning" onto the dirt
Ben & Sandra
Steve does his stuff in the dust
Closer to Ladismith we stopped under some trees to rest, and took a group photo outside the ruin of an old homestead.
How to set up for a group photo
Getting ready for the camera
Photo finish with Anel driving the car
Everything is dry Karoo, with green valleys running along some of the mountains. Deserted homesteads aplenty.
Dry waterfalls telling many stories of flash floods...
Waterfalls telling stories of yesteryear
Apparently one can only find the rare plants Olifantsvoet and Sterboom in this area.
Old waterpump still in use: With a disused electric pump in working order in the background..
Steve is having a good time
Charles shoots Andy in action: They were the sweepers but were actually "practising" a few stunts
Charles on the Badger: They passed the camera back and forth doing over 120kms/hr
Some stopped to top up fuel in Ladismith, traveling further towards Calitzdorp by tar, turning left onto the start of the Seweweekspoort pass.
Daantjie is also happy: Beginning of Seweweekspoort pass
There was a lot of holiday traffic on the tar and quite a bit on the dirt as well. We traveled carefully (the car traffic was not so careful) up the winding 17km pass, admiring the awesome beauty. One crosses the same stream 23 times.
We stopped to have lunch in a ruin, which turned out to be an old toll house.
Lunch in style
Andy & Steve refill their Camelbaks in the stream nearby
According to historical reports, during 1859 the authorities decided to build a pass through the Poort. The initial work was done by a team of convicts, without the presence of a road-engineer. Progress was slow and in 1860 AF de Smidt, brother-in-law of the renowned pass-builder, Thomas Bains, took charge of the operations. The road was completed in 1862.
There are several stories explaining the origin of the name:
1. It took 7 weeks for mounted troops to escort a gang of highway robbers, being banished from Barrydale, through the Poort;
2. It took 7 weeks for the authorities to catch a stock-thief who fled into the mountains;
3. It took 7 weeks for a gang of brandy smugglers to return through the Poort from Beaufort West.
4. The most likely explanation is that the Poort was named after a missionary from Amalienstein, Reverend Zerwick. The local population could not pronounce his name and called it 'Seweweekspoort'.
The ruins of the original toll-house where we lunched, can be seen on the northern entrance to the Poort. According to tradition, the ghost of one of the first toll-gate keepers can be seen on dark, stormy nights, when he appears with his lantern, stopping motorists. As soon as they stop, he disappears with his lantern...
After lunch we continued to Lainsburg, where our bikes soaked up some fuel. There we bumped into Bok van Blerk of DelaReyDelaRey fame, towing a wounded 1200GSA. We were too tired to chat to the gentleman and ask his story.
Road to Lainsburg
By now it was already past 17.00 and we needed to 'hurry' to Merweville - another 40kms on N1 to the left turnoff, and another 80kms of breathtaking dirt to Merweville. Anel thought she spotted a wounded chameleon and forced Daantjie to stop - not sure how she saw it at 120kms/hour! Anyway, we all stopped and the chameleon turned out to be a locust in disguise.
Chameleon Emergency stop
The dusty road to Merweville
Ben and Sandra practice standing up on the straight stretches
Anel managed to spot some Gemsbok
As you near Merweville, the 'gatekeeper', a well-dressed scarecrow gentleman welcomes you.
We passed a lovely old church and some other buildings along the very wide road.
Lovely old church
We eventually found our camping spot at the back of Springbok Lodge. We pitched our tents in the dying rays of the sun on Merweville 'grass' - just sand and fine black stone, too hard to bash a tent peg into.
We actually looked like a little squatter camp there.
Dying embers: While we prepare our own embers
We kuiered into the early evening around our African TV, eating our braai meat and telling stories. Most of us were quite bushed after a long day, and retired to bed early.
Sandra bandages her feet: New boots, you see
Springbok Lodge entrance
Most of us missed the lovely swimming pool
We awoke early the next morning, Andy firing up his little gas stove to brew coffee for me, so that I could get fired up. We packed up again in a relaxed fashion and had a huge hearty breakfast at Die Kombuis, where the Tannie-in-Charge berated us for not having slept over in one of her guest houses!
Breakfast stop Merweville
A breakfast that skriks for niks
Merweville (32° 45.5' S / 21° 41' E ) seems to have arisen in the 1890s out of the need of farmers in the Beaufort West area to establish a parish closer to home. A church was built in the now Merweville town and the Dominee van der Merwe traveled many kms from Beaufort West to hold services for the farmers here. In the meantime an enterprising farmer, Van der Bijl, bought and developed quite a bit of land in the area. Some time afterwards the Anglo-Boer war happened upon them and he was apparently jailed in his own farm house. After his death in 1904, the church bought up his lands and buildings and the town of Merweville came into existence.
Apparently a meteorite site was found on a farm 30kms away in 1977. Except for a few bits of colourful history and some lovely tourist spots (the 1st cell phone reception is only very recent), the town's primary source of income is sheep farming.
Signs of "civilisation" in Merweville
We left for Sutherland via a 'minor' road. The road was pretty good (my confidence levels were really building up) for about 20kms, and then wash-aways became more frequent and then more sandy, deep and precarious at speed.
This should have been a hint of what was to come. Fortunately, I had no prior knowledge (poor Ben didn't sleep the night before because of prior knowledge) of the mountain pass to come, not even when I passed the sign indicating 10km/hr.
Subtle warning signs
When I did realize, I thought 'oh s*&*T' and my helmet started to steam up. I eventually leveled out, flicking up my visor, turning a hairish hairpin bend and pulling myself and my 650 up the steep rutted winding pass. I arrived sweating at the top to find Daantjie, Anel and Brendan waiting. They were quite surprised to see me - I wonder why.
Further down, Ben and Sandra had run into a spot of trouble, which eventually lasted 5 hours. They'd hit a rock and gashed the side wall of their back tyre.
Spot of trouble
Good bike on good bit of bad road
Charles ferried Sandra to the top of the mountain, where she continued to walk (yes walk) towards Sutherland, bearing 1 bottle of water. Fortunately she stopped at the top of the hill!
Brendan, Charles and Daantjie and Anel all went back to the stricken motorbike.
Sometimes you just have to stop: amidst your troubles and survey the beauties!
Ok, so the plugs don't work.: Now what?
Ok, we'll try Plan No.14F
A few hours, many four-letter words, and many words of advice later - the bike simply could not be repaired with the spares we had. By 14.00 we had 3 plans:
1. BMW On-call
2. Daantjie & rest of group (excl Ben) to travel to Worcester, Daantjie to return with spare tyre in his bakkie (a distance of over 200kms 1 way).
3. Daantjie & rest of group to travel to beyond Sutherland where Daantjie's boss has a weekend farm, borrow a bakkie and collect Ben and Bike.
''Option 1'' seemed to be the most trouble-free, but it took over half-an-hour of precious time to get through to an assistant, who thought we were somewhere in Swaziland (not Sutherland). She cut herself off, trying to give us a reference number. A 2nd call and another half an hour and we were made to understand that Ben could be collected that day, but that the bike could only be collected on the Tuesday, due to it being Easter. So that ruled Option 1 out.
In the meantime, we collected water and food amongst ourselves, and Charles on the nimble Badger ferried this and messages back and forth to the stricken Ben.
We turned to ''Option 2'', and Daantjie tried to call his boss - no luck.
So we were forced to ''Option 3''.
We traveled up and down across the mountains, through gates, which had to be opened and closed, through drifts and wash-aways, through thick black sand and eventually, many kms (only about 55) onto the tar towards Sutherland.
One of the many wash-aways
You just have to stop and admire
Daantjie and Anel sped on ahead to make up time and get to Worcester ASAP.
The rest of us (Charles was riding with Sandra as pillion) continued on the 100km tar to Matjiesfontein. About 30kms from Matjiesfontein another drama awaited us.
Andy came across fresh BMW bits and pieces (tyre and lights) - we're still not sure how he managed to identify them as BMW at 130kms/hr. Fearing the worst, Steve and Andy traveled each side of the road looking for a stricken BMW (hopefully not in the form of Daantjie and Anel). Then they spotted his bike standing in the yard of the house just off the road.
And now for the most stunning item: Daantjie's back tyre delaminated (@ 170kms/hr) just outside his boss's house!
Delamination of an old back tyre: The top box spared Anel of some serious injuries
To cut a long story short, we reverted to ''Plan 2'' and halved Ben's rescue time dramatically. (I tend to think that we didn't have anything to do with the Masterplan at all) A cold glass of Coke and water restored our spirits and energy. We'd given all our water to Ben.
Daantjie and Anel took the bakkie (thank you Daantjie's boss) to collect Ben. ETA 17.30. The rest of us headed for Matjiesfontein, trashing our plans of taking the dirt road from there to Ceres. The driving factors were time and lack of fuel. In Matjiesfontein we discovered that the Easter Bunny had shut down the fuel pumps and the town, so we edged on to Touwsriver. Some only had a few ml left in their tanks. My 650 had 3L left!
We had a quick burger and chips at Steers, said some goodbyes and headed for home. Andy and I peeled off in Worcester to overnight at our Bainskloof hut. Steve, Charles and Sandra went on via the old pass to Paarl, depositing Sandra safely at her home. Brendan had left us already in Touwsriver. We all arrived home exhausted, happy and in one piece.
Meanwhile - back at the ranch.
Andy called Ben from Sutherland to tell him of the Plan 2 and ETA of 17.30. Ben decided to keep himself busy by preparing for the forthcoming uploading of the bike.
He carried all his gear in several trips 2kms down the steep mountain pass in his biking boots. Then, once all the gear was below, he went back to walk his bike down (no mean feat). While he was doing this, he was met by a bakkie and a well-intentioned driver, carrying all his gear up again! When the driver heard that the gear was meant to be at the bottom, he promptly off-loaded it and drove off again! Ben counted to 10 several times and said thank you in as many four-letter words while watching the bakkie disappearing in a cloud of dust and spraying stones. Well, there was nothing else to do but carry it all down again.
Daantjie and Anel arrived bang on time at 17.40 and I'm not sure how, but they loaded the bike onto it, turned the bakkie around and began a slow trek back to Paarl, opening and closing gates, crossing drifts and sand patches. With a heavily laden bakkie, this was no mean feat. Eventually they arrived in Paarl after midnight. Not sure what time they got back to Worcester.
It was getting late
On Sunday Daantjie and Anel took a spare tyre to the Sutherland farm and retrieved their bike. They almost ran out of fuel just outside Touwsriver, just to top it all.
But what a memorable and beautiful trip - what wonderful people and team spirit! Thank you especially to Daantjie and Anel for inviting us on your very well-unorganised trip. We really enjoyed every minute of it.
If you've got nothing to do one day, do yourself a favour and visit Merweville the long way round.
PS read [http://www.bmwmotorcycleclubcape.co.za/self-sufficency-out-cuds Self-sufficiency out in the cuds]