In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.
- Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love
Tour cycling keeps you humble. There are so many times you wish you could have a warm shower, a plate of food, shelter from the wind and rain or even just a glass of cold water, but it's just you, on your bicycle, following the twists and turns of the road. So you carry on cycling, watching the sun sink ever lower and keeping your eyes peeled for an open farm gate through which you could quickly disappear and pitch your tent.
After leaving the small town of Tweeling late in the afternoon, I was cycling through the mealie fields and veld of the Free State, looking for a place to spend my first night wild camping. The first open gate I found led to a small stream, where I hoped I could spend the night with the sound of rushing water in my ears. It was only after I pushed my bicycle halfway down the marshy hill that I remembered: always scout for a camping spot on foot first, after hiding your bicycle. It's no fun pushing your loaded, heavy bicycle up a soggy hill covered in thorns and anthills while swatting at all the mosquitoes and horse flies hovering close to the water (and now every piece of exposed skin you have!)
On to plan B. I found an open gate that led into a mealie field. Luckily it was weekend, and I knew that no farmer would be checking in early on a Sunday morning (or any time on a Sunday, for that matter!), so I hid myself behind the long grass, checked that none of my things were visible from the road and set up camp. I had cycled more than 60km on dirt roads with a heavily loaded bicycle, and I was tired, sore and in need of a good cup of tea.
While waiting for the sweet comfort brewing on my little camping stove, Mother Nature spoiled me with a spectacular sunset.
On Sunday, I woke up with the sun and lazily packed up. I was heading towards Kestell right outside the Golden Gate National Park, but I had no idea what the road looked like and would have to refill my water bottles at some point.
It was a clear and sunny morning, and by early afternoon I had reached the tarred road between Warden and Bethlehem. After filling my water bottles at a farmhouse next to the road (and cycling through a flooded spruit, but that's a story for another day!) I turned onto the second stretch of dirt road for the day. The terrain became steadily more hilly as I approached the mountains of Lesotho.
It was late afternoon and I was wondering whether to try and push through to Kestell before sunset when a local farmer and his family stopped to next to me, and after a short exchange offered me a bed for the night. I was spoiled with my own room, great company and more food than I could ever eat on their farm with a beautiful name: Prosperity.
Like I said, tour cycling keeps you humble. You are exposed to the most generous and caring side of humanity, all the time. People simply go out of their way to accommodate a crazy girl on a bicycle, and it is such a treat to have a home cooked meal and warm shower when you least expect it!
The next day, after giving me breakfast and a warm farewell, I was off to Kestell. It was cold and windy, with clouds threatening rain, so I decided to book into Karma Backpackers.
Karma Backpackers is a find. As you can see from all the excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, this is more than a backpackers. It feels like a visit to a friend's house: I was one of only three guests, and spent hours chatting to Lucio over cups of tea while enjoying the beautiful garden and homely kitchen. Owner Vera Ann wasn't there, but I did sample and buy some of her famous award-winning jam, produced with ingredients from her own orchard and garden, as well as other local farms, in unusual combinations: lemon and ginger marmalade, rosemary and quince, and apricot and sweet almond!
This tiny little hamlet next to the Drakensberg was full of surprises. After stocking up on supplies for the road, I heard that one tune that every kid who grew up in a small town in South Africa would recognise in a heartbeat: the Ice Cream van! I chased it for two blocks, and got my R6 reward!
Kestell is ideally located for a visit to the Drakensberg or the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and though it's not on many people's list for a visit, I would think that is the best reason to make the effort to see it - small town hospitality and charm at it's best!