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SIDECAR
AFRICA


Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares

SIDECAR RIDING IN THE SOUTHERN DRAKENSBERG – April 2011

It was just the other day, the first weekend in March to be specific that I declared my undying love for the Eastern Free State.
It would seem I have a very fickle heart because it is now infatuated with the Southern Drakensberg – does that mean I’m cheating on the Eastern Free State?
Who can account for these things – maybe I should just be more inclusive and say my heart belongs to Southern Africa. What a beautiful place we get to live and ride in.
Last Saturday we set off after a hearty breakfast at the Sani Pass Hotel in the opposite direction from the pass. We did the pass last year, today was to go and explore the other roads in that part of the world.
The whole idea was to take the kids up Sani in the car and show them where their insane parents and a whole bunch of other sidecar enthusiasts rode up with Their sidecars last September. There’s a whole trip report on that topic for anyone who has not read it yet.
Back to this trip - the other days would be spent sidecarring around. So this was a sidecarring day and we were heading in the direction of Pevensey and after that more specifically to the Reichenau Mission Station. These roads were made for sidecars! I’m quite sure the Roadworks Dept went out there and declared this the ultimate sidecar countryside in the whole wide world and then proceeded to build these perfect little dirt roads meandering through this spectacular countryside.
Ryno had found the Reichenau Mission Station while looking for Geocaches and I had also spoken about it with a friend earlier in the week, so I was really curious to see the Reichenau Mission Station.
It is one of the daughter stations established by the Trappist Monks, specifically Franz Pfanner. The Trappist order established Mariannhill Monastery first and moved out from there and established a number of daughter stations. A book entitled ‘For the sake of Silence ‘ by Michael Cawood Green is written specifically about this. Guess what I’m looking for at the moment?
Back to today. We arrived at this very interesting place in the middle of nowhere (literally). Picture this – we are riding through this beautiful country side and then out of nowhere there appears this little scene complete with a dwarf cathedral. The church at Reichenau is said to be a smaller copy of the cathedral in Reichenau, Germany?
Just as we arrived, Nomasonto, the guide, was about to set off to the church with another group of people. What followed had very little to do with sidecars and a lot with gobsmacking murals, architecture and unbearably sad decay. I left with the distinct feeling of sadness mixed with wonder – there must be a word for that, I just don’t know it.
We also had a guided tour through the mill (working every day but not now because they are waiting for someone to come and put the big belt back). There is also a coffee shop waiting to happen but first it has to get a shelf in the beautiful counter display cabinet before it can become functional. We asked one of the residents of nearby Underberg and apparently the opening of the coffee shop has been imminent for a while.
In its heyday Reichenau had a working bakery, butchery, school and a blacksmith. Now there are 3 nuns left. The church bell was supposed to ring at midday, but when we asked why the bell had not been rung yet at 12h20 the nun whose duty it is told us she had forgotten to ring the bell. On an ancient wood and coal burning stove, a fabulous thing that reminded me of a steam locomotive one of the other 2 nuns was cooking lunch. I asked her how many people she was cooking for and she answered 4. Judging by the size of the pots and their contents I thought they were intending to feed the multitudes.
While Ry and the girls and the other tour people were having an audience with the very friendly nun who forgot to ring the bell, I took my time looking around. I saw a very interesting site – grass growing on the inside of a window of the very first building at Reichenau. This building served as the main shelter and every other purpose building while the other buildings were being constructed.
Finally we tore ourselves away from Reichenau and left for Underberg. On the way to Underberg Ry and Ems did a little geocache – we also found the cache at the Reichenau Mill.
Driving in to Underberg I suddenly discovered I had no clutch, nada, absolutely nothing. My clutch pin had fallen out on the road to Underberg and luckily Ry knew exactly what to do. With a little bit of fence wire from a property nearby he Mc Givered a new clutch pin and we were battle ready again and rode on to the Underberg Studio up the road. I was most impressed as this took Ry only about 10 minutes.
The mother of I won’t say all storms because that would be exaggerating, but definitely the mother of a lot of storms were blowing in and once inside Catherine and Lawrance Brennon’s exquisite gallery, it sounded like explosions when the acorns off the giant trees outside hit the corrugated roof. We looked at the display of some of the best potters’ work in the country, as well as Lawrance’s inspiring landscape photography. He explained his current passion, pinhole photography to us and showed us the camera he built himself and uses to take these fantastic photos. The idea being that it is in a way a reaction to digital photography – going back to real basics. I really liked this idea.
There are also some of Marlene Neumann’s photos and some other very interesting photos.
Outside the acorn explosions had made way for Stephen King-like lightning. Nothing on earth gets me kitted up and onto my bike faster than lightning. Wrong or right I firmly believe that once I’m sitting on my bike I’m untouchable or unstrikable?!
Driving from Underberg to Himeville was a very eerie experience. This dark Stephen King business of a storm was moving across the landscape like the big nothing – draining the landscape of all colour and light as it came over. I glanced back once and saw this fat short lightning strike that just made me ride faster. At this stage the sound track in my head was Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ – nice and dramatic and ominous. (This is the music that played when the choppers are flying over Vietnam in that movie that was loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – I think?)
The interesting part came when we had to turn left onto the dirt road to Sani Pass as our hotel is about 12kms down the road. Now we were travelling at a right angle to the storm and I could watch it out the corner of my eye in all its frightening splendour. This did not last long before the first wall of rain hit us. I made the mistake of opening my visor to see better and almost drowned. It got very strange when we encountered this huge tour bus that made way for us. I think the bus driver was just so surprised to see these 2 little sidecars braving the storm that he took pity and gave us a gap.
The last few kilometres turned into an excellent monkey and rider family bondfest. When we finally pulled into the hotel shivering and shaking there was much laughter and talking about the rain drops feeling like bullets and stinging the whatever out of you. Ry and I proceeded to polish our supply of Allesverloren Port with the monkeys getting a sip each.
Two days later we were ready for some more sidecarring in the Southern Drakensberg. Our monkeys decided they were going to do some of the planned Kid’s Activities with Happy (promise that’s her name) at the hotel, leaving Ry and me to set off into the blue yonder by ourselves. I love monkeying so I had the opportunity to sit back and armchair through the magnificent countryside. Our turning point for the day being Creighton.
It had rained quite a bit the day before which made the roads nice and undusty with the odd bit of mud. We passed a cattle truck that had gotten stuck and I really felt sorry for them. We were on the same road to Pevensey and then continued past on our way to Creighton. Ry had programmed the route on his GPS so when the GPS said we must turn off onto this little dirt road to Centacow that’s what we did. We rode through some rural villages where the kids and many of the adults could not contain their surprise and laughter at the sight of a sidecar going past. Much waving saw us through this leg of our journey. These people’s reaction was in such stark contrast to the sullen and hostile reaction we had from the people in Lesotho a few months before.
We could not believe our eyes when we encountered an even bigger and more impressive Cathedral at Centacow than the one at Reichenau. This one is in excellent condition with some ladies washing the floor and as the church was open we could have a good look around. It was heart warming to see how beautiful this building still is. Outside there was another little church lower down the slope. This is most probably the older of the 2 and must have been replaced by the bigger church later. The old disused little church stands in stark contrast to the preserved big brother higher on the hill. It is only a matter of time before the bell tower will fall over as it is visibly pulling away from the rest of the structure. It is always sad to see something of beauty discarded and empty.
Creighton turned out to be a very small dorpie indeed. In its favour though are the impressive locomotives and steam train so we had a photo shoot with Vlad the not so Bad (Lola still regards him as a bit of an imposter after Humfree), and a mean looking black locomotive.
From Creighton to Underberg is a very beautiful drive which went by in a flash. We had coffee with friends in Underberg and set off back to the hotel and Happy and our little monkeys.
The overriding impression I was left with after 2 days riding in the Southern Drakensberg is that we had only scratched the very tip of the Berg so to speak. We’ll be back……….