Day 23

Leaving Areena we, or should I say Suzann, took on a steady +- 20km climb. Respite came few and far between and she just had to keep cranking up the long Eastern Cape hills. In the vehicle I was feeling very sorry for her as she, or rather her knee, is not a happy climber. But she bravely soldiered on. I expected her to hand over the day’s cycling to me when we turned off the N2, direction Kei Mouth, but she completed her 31km of the day’s relay.

Taking over, I wasn’t in for much better since around the first bend in the road I encountered the first of many climbs … and one would think you’re going down to the coast! But I soon found my climbing legs and went spinning to the top of the hills. The first snag I hit was a stray dog that came running up the road as we entered the village at Kei Mouth. Not wanting to get knocked off the bike, I hopped off. But since my encounter with a dog while out running, I’m very wary of those canid teeth, and since my fight-or-flight response is very much weighted toward flight, I proceeded to jump into the bakkie … on top of Suzann, nearly squashing her flat as she desperately tried to undo her seatbelt to give me more room. After some loud rebukes and much hand waving the dog finally trotted off into the village, leaving me to collect my bike from where I’d dropped it in the grass on the verge. Jumping on, I stood on the pedals to get away as fast as possible … not wanting to give it any time to come back. Not far down the road though, I had to stop for us to load my bike for the ferry crossing of the Kei.

By the time we’d bumped down the narrow gravel road leading to the ferry, it was fast making its way from the far bank towards us with a little car perched on top. We just had time to jump out of the vehicle, phones at the ready for photos, when Kevin was waved onto the ferry. Boarding with a jarring bump, we had to run (more like waddle with our cycling shoes) to get up the slippery ramp. All aboard and we were just about ready to go … but not before Suzann roped the skipper into posing for a picture while the last few pedestrian passengers made their way to the wooden benches along the sides of the ferry. And it was also there that we promptly seated ourselves … after paying the ferryman … against Chris de Burgh’s advice not to pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side …

But we got to the other side, vehiculus intactus. Now it was just a matter of reversing off the ferry. But with a few well directed waves the skipper had us all lined up for the dismount … and one, two, three … bakkie back on dry land. Waving goodbye to the herd of cows enjoying the afternoon sun on the beach, we headed across the floodplains of the Kei and up the opposite headland onto the plateau above. Now we were in the Transkei proper … no fences, rolling hills, grasslands, cows, goats, elderly gentlemen in ancient suits each armed with a stick worn smooth from years of handling, barefoot grannies with necks like granite pillars carrying buckets of water on their heads, youngsters clad in ‘hello kitty’ pink all yelling for sweets and money …

After having to take my first walk up a scarily steep hill, pushing my trusty steed beside me, I decided to call it quits for the day. Suzann took us the last 4,5km … fair I’d say, since I had done 36km as opposed to her 31 earlier in the day.

Porting the short distance into Trennerys, we were welcomed into the grassy campsite below the volleyball court and main hotel complex by a couple of hungry cows just beyond the fence seemingly eating their fill of the tree strelitzias. Tents up, we left Kevin to finish setting up camp (… he volunteered) while we went for a well-deserved shower. This however turned out to be a ‘now you freeze, now you boil kinda thing’. We hadn’t realised that we had to do with gas geysers … always temperamental things.

Clean at last, we headed through the gates with the sign saying, ‘beach’. Following the path through the trees, we eventually came out on one of the Wild Coast’s sweeping beaches. In the curve of the bay is the mouth of a river … but the mouth was closed. Walking a short distance inland brought us to the most beautiful sight of a mirror-like surface … water stretching far inland, curving around the hills wooded over with myriad tree strelitzias and their banana-like leaves. With the waves constantly breaking behind the dunes at our backs, we stood to watch as the sun disappeared behind the hills.

Making our way back to the campsite through the sand that leaves a blackish residue on your feet, we walked into a 4X4 club setting up all around us in the campsite. It took quite some manoeuvring to get all the vehicles into position so that those with rooftop tents didn’t roll out of bed to a dizzying drop, but finally they all settled in to their braai fires. We opted for the buffet style dinner at the hotel dining room and counted down the minutes to seven and food … Cycling is hungry business.

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