Two Jills and a Jack!
(13 October 2016)
Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfilment.
Many of us live lifes filled with tedium, responsibilities and unpleasant chores. We describe this as ‘life’. But a handful of us know that ‘life’ is not cramped between walls. It is out there running wild, asking us to chase it.
Skinny and Chikita packed their bags, strapped on some extra fuel (REAL fuel – not the Bioplus), and chased after a previous challenge we didn’t complete.
The Orrie Baragwanath Pass
A few months back we found ourselves at the foot of the Wolkberg Mountains, staring up at a very rocky, squiggly line that soon disappear between the bushes and trees. We bumped up and over the first few hundred meters, but decided to abandon the adventure, as we were not too sure of the capability of the machines we intended to drag over the rocky pass. I’ll take any bike over any road, but in this case… neither the bike NOR the road was mine. We turned around and took the long road to Tzaneen – but vowed to come back.
A friend sent me the following e-mail:
If you had managed to get to the top of the Orrie Baragwanath Pass, you would have gone past my oupas’ old farm – where my dad was born. He happened to be friends with Generaal Jan Smuts. Attached is a copy of a letter written by Jan Smuts to my oupa regarding the building of the pass. Smuts motivated the building of a road on what has only been a donkey track. At that time, the only access was from the Ofcalaco (Tzaneen) side, and consequently it was a moerse trip to get to Pietersburg (Polokwane).
The pic below was taken in about 1970 when we went to Orrie Baragwanath’s funeral (he was 104 when he died). We travelled up the pass in a Mini – that should give you an idea of what a good gravel road it was back then!
In 1837, Louis Trichardt tried to scout a route over these mountains via ox wagon. The land back in those days was ruled by Chief Sekororo. The trekking party had been plagued by rustling, and Trichardt responded by taking several Sekororo women with him as hostages. Today, the Sekororo people still have a saying about white people, “When are the women going to be sent back?”
It was time to send back the women…
From Lebowa Goma you take the dirt road over the mountain to Trichartsdal. We got to the foot of the pass just before 6pm. Time – AND DAY LIGHT – was running out!
A quick stop to snap the last sand running through the hour glass.
Some people still describe the pass as a rutted donkey track, warning that the road is steep, rocky and time consuming. We lifted a few eyebrows when we mentioned that we were planning on riding The Orrie.
The pass was rocky, the bush was thick, the slope was steep, and the afgrond was dark. But we rode it like queens!
All the neigh-sayers – you are NINNIES!
We expected the doom of all passes, but what we got was a plaas-pad with beautiful views and a buck or two lazily chomping as they watched us bump past.
We made it to the gate of the reserve at around 06:30pm.
A LOCKED GATE!
The notice on the gate said that it closed at 6pm. Dang!
But soon we saw two bright white smiles walking up to the gate in the dark. The gatekeepers, Frans and Brighton swung open the gate and invited us in. Being two girls… on bikes… in the dark… You just call us the keymasters!
Frans told us to spin a lie to the gatekeepers at the other side if they asked why we were so late. We should just say that we were scared of riding in the dark.
But little did Frans know…
One of my top 3 activities in life is… WILD CAMPING!
It slots it quite far below drowning in ice cream, but just after riding a bike.
We rode the last rocky section in the dark and popped out at the flat top of The Downs with a wind howling through our speke, and clouds covering the stars.
This was where our day ended! We saw some covering to the left and took a single track (or what we thought was a single track) to find a spot for the night.
We kept riding deeper into the bushes hoping that none of the gatekeepers would come looking for us. …and did we find a five star B&B?!? It was the ruins of old Orrie’s house. We found a grassy spot next to the front door and pitched our canvas triangle.
IT WAS PARTY TIME!!!
It was Chikita’s birthday and after half a day of work, half a day of speeding up the N1, and riding up Orrie-West in the dark, I spoiled her with cake, candles, balloons, and home-made party hats!
The Zebras chimed in at, “… tooooo yoooouuu!”
We woke up the next morning with babalas, rain and a campsite strewn with happiness!
Room service – hot tea!
We packed up and found a muddy path down to The Downs.
Even though we were told that there are beautiful panoramic views from up here, we only saw the beauty of the rest of the party choir bidding us farewell.
Orrie and his misty mountains… or was it my hazy hangover?
Orrie Baragwanath who owned the farm (named 'The Downs') was an entrepreneur, explorer, farmer, geologist, padmaker and philanthropist of note. In the early 1900’s he prospected and pegged the copper wealth of Zambia. He then bought the land of 'The Downs' in 1908 and proceeded to build a road to both the West and East in 1911. Orrie and his family farmed 'The Downs' till 1976, after which it was bequeathed to the people of South Africa in a deed of gift.
The farm is now contained within the nature reserve of Lekgalametsi which means ‘place of water’.
Orrie Baragwanath Pass – TICK!
On the other side of the sign board the road was tarred. We loved rolling down the steep sweeps, while the coolness of the mist soaked all our bendy parts.
Down in the valley is the old Malta Plantation which boasts some of the oldest avo, mango and litchi plantations in South Africa.
One of the waterfalls along the way…
…where we stopped and had breakfast.
We were cold and slightly moist and decided to drop it straight to the next night’s accommodation: Levubu (with the Maritz family).
But the further North we went the more explicit the drought situation in SA became. It is sad people… VERY SAD! Cow carcasses next to the road, farmlands unploughed, with the grey nothingness extending far over every hill.
The Middle Letaba Dam is standing at only 22%. This is supposed to be the third biggest dam in Limpopo.
We found a café that served tea. The till lady whistled in the direction of the old chips & viennas stand at the back, and soon a young man came out with a freshly oiled… I mean Boiled… kettle of water. A dusty table with two lonely teabags begging for attention, a clogged teaspoon, and a tin of hard caked Cremora. Aaah! Tea – the African way!
That evening we solved our own drought problem at the Marundu bar.
The next day was going to be MAGIC!
Vendas are mythical people and we wanted to visit enchanted forests, mysterious lakes and ride hell-raising passes.
We could see the giant Redwood forest in the Entabeni State Forest (Soutpansberg) from our stoep. Over a cup of coffee we contemplated our trajectory. Chikita knew a road that lead in the right direction, but it has recently been blocked off…
We had a GPS co-ord and made our way through plantation roads leading in a general Northerly direction.
Breath-taking! It gave us PINES and NEEDLES!
Suzuki vs. Cowasaki
Our GPS got us as close as 300m to point X. Oh, how I hate walking with MX boots…
But we parked the bikes and pulled up our socks.
As I hit the floor on the other side (face first), I realized WE WERE THERE!
We were standing in the middle of a Redwood enchanted forest. I felt small amongst these giants as they softly creaked to each other, announcing the presence of the two faeries staring up at them with wonder.
We found a small path and went to fetch our bikes. We lay on our backs beholding the symmetry of sunlight and nature covering the sky.
Redwoods are the largest of all living things on planet earth and age to over 2 000 years. Though this specific small forest was planted here as an experiment within the last 80 years. Thus we were standing in a nursery of young redwoods; they still have lots of growing to do.
On our way down the other side of the mountain we found a pleasant surprise.
This one wasn’t on www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za and we couldn’t wait to roll it flat. We passed a little sedan vehicle and figured it couldn’t be that bad.
Expecting disappointment, we actually had a fun step down to the valley. Again it was a rocky path with a few tight corners and switch backs. Sections of the road were badly eroded, but Brom and the BMX jumped merrily from stone to wash-out without a hitch.
We stopped to smell the Five Roses (tea plantation) in the valley below.
Jip, that way…
(For us the pass was enjoyable, though there is no way the sedan came out at the bottom still looking the same…)
There’s a mystic body of water in the heart of the Soutpansberg. One of many of the folklores surrounding this lake is that a Venda man had his heart broken. In his sorrow he walked into Lake Fundudzi and turned into a python. A slippery story, but ‘listen properly’…
This python is the god of fertility and cares for the crops and he is pacified annually by the pouring of sacrificial beer onto the water and by young virgin Venda maidens performing the famous Domba-python dance.
Did we just read that? Beer on the water!?! Sacrilege! We set off to go save the nip.
We reached a small village with a road sign indicating the look-out point for the lake. We made a quick stop but there were nothing to see. Not a drop of beer… I mean – WATER.
So, we decided to take a closer inspection and took one of the smaller roads running between huts and kraals down to the lake, but the road ended abruptly into a dry sand bank. We didn’t see any crocodiles or pythons and so we kept going, until we found a small muddy stream with a steep embankment.
Chikita went down to the water and confirmed that it definitely didn’t taste like Amstel. We were satisfied that there were no alcohol abuse in this region and decided to leave the people of the water to practise their other rituals in peace.
Our aim for the next day was Crooks’ Corner, where the borders of SA, Zim and Moz meet. As motorcycles aren’t allowed in the Kruger Park, we plotted a (hopefully) deserted road as far north along the border of Zimbabwe as we could find. (We later regretted this, but read on to find out why.) This road even had a pass – Jack’s pass! Now, how could we miss that one?
We set off early morning with 1.5 litres of water and two peanut butter zarmies. Let’s not ponder too much over the 500ml of Jack (the Daniels type) in my own Camelbak.
We took the shortest route north and soon reached the land of the upside-down trees.
We found a single petrol pump in Masisi and decided to waste a few minutes getting to know the locals. Venda people are MOER friendly. We went into the shop, but they only sold cold drinks – AND SOFT SERVE!!! Cream soda flavoured soft serve!
*Memorize this pic, as it looked quite different a few hours later*
While we cooled down on the stoep, we met the owner of the shop / petrol pump: Deon Erlank
He would later turn out to be an angel in disguise. I’m convinced I saw a feather sticking out under his shirt.
We finished our ice-cream and got back on the road. The first boom gate was for bek-en-klou; they didn’t ask questions.
We then travelled on a sandy road for about 20km when we got to another very military looking gate and tent, with a sign board that said: Shooting in progress! Nobody stopped us… not even ourselves.
We then sped past a military base camp and the troops just stared at us in disbelieve as we chucked them a quick waved and kept keeping on.
We found the ‘mostly deserted’ road that would take us over Jack’s pass (the most Northern pass in SA), along the border to Crooks’ Corner. Here, the nothingness grew at least knee high!
We reached a small hill called Ghost Kop – we should have taken this as a sign…
Who ya gonna call?
We started this trip chasing ‘Life’, but when you have two (too) brave girls chasing together, it could become hard for them to differentiate between Life and Death.
Jack’s pass was named after Jack Greeff, a highly decorated troop turned poach-buster. If this pass was anything to go by, Jack is one tough cookie!
There were NO cell phone reception and our water level started dropping below half. Soon the temperatures went well above 40°C, and shade there was not.
The description for the pass was that it’s a Jeep-track. Must be the new Jeep that comes standard with hooves instead of wheels. The single track turned down a steep embankment, which ended in a ravine.
At ADA (www.adasa.co.za) we learned to look-up and open-up. We made it through… even me!
And that’s when the tired started setting in.
Chikita dropped the BMX at a bees-poefie angle and it took us a few attempts to get it back on its wheels. We started sweeting like Zuma when he has to read a very big number.
This pass must have been severely damaged in the previous floods and by the looks of it nobody uses this road anymore. By the second abyss, we were running on ‘dood moeg’.
I kanteled over, but luckily Brom is a scrawny ass and we quicky had him up again. I took a muddier, flat route to the right and spinned him all the way to the top. PINNED!
I’m not the kind of person who let inconsequential things like boys or near death experiences stop her.
Chikita attempted the step-up straight down the line, and went straight down…
We heaved, and pushed, and pulled, and lugged, and gave up…
We were done! Klaar! OP!
It was 2pm, we only had a few slukke water left (not counting the Jack), our muscles stopped muscling, and we had a kak-swaar BMW on its side.
We found a dry bush, crawled into the little spot of shade and lied down panting for LIFE.
After an hour, we got back up and decided to try it one more time. We packed stones under the back wheel and finally pushed him up. YEAH!!!
But again – this is what happens if you don’t touch wood…
We never switched off the ignition and in the hour that we rested in the shade, the battery went PAP. It did not even turn over.
We were stranded in the middle of a military zone (with shooting in progress), crawling with wild animals like elephant, and that’s not even mentioning the AK47 loaded poachers. AND, our water was finished.
Sometimes being ‘brave’ is NOT worth it…
I told Chikita that we had to leave the bike there and go find help, two-up on Brom. At first she did not want to leave the bike there (it was Ettas’ bike – we’ll make it up to you Ettas!), but I convinced her that leopards do not make good bed-buddies. The safest was to turn around, dip back through the two canyons and try and find help at the military base.
We made it back to the base camp and stopped next to the first official looking troop. We plonked off the bike and begged him for water. He immediately fetched cold water, but wanted us to show ID that we were Saffers and not illegal Zim immigrants. You can just imagine the amount of white chickens on bikes streaming illegally over the border on a daily basis!
However, they were not willing to negotiate the pass or access the area due to the dangerous poachers. They were also not convinced that the bike would still be there in the morning, as the tsotsis would take it during the night. I did mention that I would pay to see anyone pull that fat, dead bike out the ditch. Ajikolonto!
They advised us to go back to the SAPS in Masisi and ask them for help.
In Masisi, the SAPS showed no interest in helping us. The closest we got was a remark from one of the lady officers, “What whê you thinking?!?”
With no hope left, we returned to the petrol pump where there were cold drinks and friendly peeps.
*A few hours later and not the same, nê?*
Everybody offered to help us retrieve the bike, but it was hard to explain to them that a Ford Escort would not make it all the way there OR back.
One of the guys walking up to us with a limp, told us how he got his swagger, “I also had a bike and I had one wheel in the air, clutching through the gears… 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… But then the bike came down en toe bêre ek hom in ‘n gaatjie en hy draai sy horings.”
By 6pm Deon came back to lock up the shop and found these two verlepte chickens sitting outside the door. Without a word of hesitation he offered us a room in his house for the night and said that he would help us get the bike out the next morning. ‘Angel’ I told you!
We were spoiled with a fresh shower, fancy shampoo, and a plate of kook-kos!
Our dehydration was treated with ample whisky. It helped… for one of us!
The next morning, Deon (aka Mahindra) stopped to pick up one of his assistants, Eddy. I asked Eddy if we should not maybe take a few more hands to help push the bike, but Eddy flexed his muscles and assured us that those puppies were enough.
Deon dropped us as close to the BMX as he could get his bakkie. Chikita and Eddy walked the 1.6kay, while I took Brom for his third stretch of Jack’s pass. He started looking like a pro!
We jump started the bike and turned it around. I can confirm that the Eddy muscles were STRONG like ox.
We almost made it all the way out of the pass when Chikita had a last hard nibble of Jack’s soil. With a slight concussion and not too sure of everyone’s names, she still got back up, ready to ride. I was surrounded by angels & superheroes.
But the bike was down in the kloof and I couldn’t get Brom close to jump start it again. Deon then reversed his bakkie down the slope as close as he could get, dropped us a rope to tie to the bike and started spinning his bakkie up the hill, slowly pulling the bike up and out, while the three of us kept it on its wheels.
One last jump start, and we were back in the game.
The saviours of stubborn chicks: Eddy and Deon!
We love you!!!
I knew that we would eventually look back at this weekend, smile and think, “Ons is kak avontuurlik!”
To sum it all up, in the words of Chikita:
Dit was so lekker as wat dit k@k-scary was; so moeilik as wat ander goed weer onverwags maklik was; so d00s warm en droog as wat dit pis koud en nat was... Ek het 'n paar keer meer neergeslet as gewoonlik maar ek voel bietjie lewendiger as toe ek gegaan het! Die bloukolle en blase is 'n painfully lekker reminder van 'n highly successful adventure!
Translated (and in English, it doesn’t even get close – GO LEARN AFRIKAANS):
It was as much fun as it was shaait-scary; it was as difficult as what other stuff was unexpectedly easy; it was as ‘box’ warm and dry as it was ‘pee’ cold and wet… I fell down like a slut more than I ussually do but I feel more alive than the day we left! The bruises and blisters are a painfully nice reminder of a highly successful adventure!
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