Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rainbow Nation Ramble: South Africa by Bike

Once a declining dock area, Cape Town's
Victory and Alfred Waterfront
is now a tourist mecca.
You can count on Doug Lofland and Bike Beyond Boundaries to deliver culturally enriching, thoughtfully-planned cycling tours that put you smack dab in the middle of a foreign culture. Our May 2011 adventure encompassed two new itineraries in "The Rainbow Nation," a land with 11 official languages that's been called "the whole world in one country."

Iconic Table Mountain shelters
Cape Town's Company's Garden.

On both, we experienced dramatic coastlines, vibrant cities, cultural diversity, abundant wildlife and sensational braais (BBQs) starring grilled delicacies cooked over open flames.

Cape Town Caper
Stunning Chapman's Peak Drive
links Hout Bay with Noordoek.

Jackass (African) Penguins
at Boulders Beach
Our two-wheeled escapade took us up Chapman's Peak Drive, a coastal stretch rivaling Big Sur for scenery and hair-pin curves. Watching for foraging baboons, we rode to a Jackass (African) Penguin colony at Boulders Beach, past multi-million-rand mansions of Leo de Caprio, David Beckham, George Clooney and other Hollywood A-listers (plus a handful of "buppies," South Africa's newly moneyed black professionals) draped on Table Mountain hillsides. In nearby Imizamo Yethu Township, children's smiles begged the question: Is having less really having more?

Robben Island Prison, where
Nelson Mandela spent 18 year
The depth of commitment to a free nation was evident at Robben Island, where a former inmate led us to cells where Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress (ANC) activists were incarcerated. We imbibed at Constantia Valley Winelands, oldest wine-making region in the Southern Hemisphere, and saw the diversity of South African flora at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and world's first botanic garden devoted to a country's indigenous flora.

Constantia Valley Winelands is the
Southern Hemisphere's oldest wine-making 
region, with vines planted in 1685.
Highlights: The serene Makuti Lodge in Hout Bay, Jikeleza Dance Project (where township kids learn self-expression, confidence and team spirit), fine reds at Groote Constantia

Best bargain: Long Street Backpackers in Cape Town, a great place to meet fellow travelers

Watch out for: Street beggers, pickpockets, credit card scammers

Riding with the Rhinos

Thatched rondawals at the Savannah
Wildlife Preserve feature electricity
and full baths.
A one-hour flight from the Mother City took us to Jo'burg, where Bobby Hartslief and his crew met us at Tambo Internat'l Airport for transport to the Savannah Wildlife Preserve in Parys, a 90-minute drive.

Clutching his hand, half-blind in the moonlit night, I followed Bobby to my thatched rondawal, a space roughly the size of a three-star American hotel room, with a queen-size bed and full bath, to begin my "glamping" (luxury camping) adventure. At dawn, I brewed tea and watched rhinos, zebras and kudus gather for a morning pow-wow at a watering hole ringed by Acacia trees.

Glamping, aka Luxury Camping

Rhinos "think" with olfactory
passages larger than their brain
If you're a nature-lover indifferent about self-sufficiency in the wild, glamping is for you. With no Boy Scout skills, I connected with Earth's creatures without sacrificing creature comforts, e.g., electricity, hot showers, cable TV (viewable in the main lodge) and WiFi.
Waking to the sun rising over the Vaal River and the birdsong of 300+ species, I roamed the preserve with other "pioneers" via bike, foot and jeep, encountering buffaloes, jackals, elands, nyalas, duikers and
Earth's fastest endangered cat, the cheetah.
25 mammal species roam
Savannah Wildlife Preserve

In addition to the guest retreat, Hartslief,
a charismatic South African whose career as a game conservationist follows one as a NASCAR driver, operates Savannah Cheetah Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Africa's indigenous wildlife and increasing the population of cheetahs in the wild. Every Bike Beyond Boundaries tour includes a donation.

Will her future extend
beyond Tumahole?
Tumahole Township

Wearing ANC T-shirts, we rode through Tumahole Township, outpost of blacks still living in mud shacks on unpaved streets. Having never welcomed American white folk to their community, school kids greet us with joy and curiosity. One grabs my sunnies and strikes a pose, Madonna-like; another strokes my fine Caucasion hairso different from his own dark fuzz. With no recollection of Apartheid, they have hope beyond the township.

2012 Cycling Safaris
Space still remains for February/March departures of Bike Beautiful Cape Town/Cape Winelands and South African Biking Safari/Savannah Game Preserve. To reserve your spot, call 719.471.0222 or 800.487.1136. Or email