It was the warthogs I liked the most – impressive ladies with curly tusks dressed in a particularly tasty shade of brown, and always pursued by a fleet of little replicas. All in all it was a fairy tale experience to be in the relaxed company of so many different animals all strolling around in the Sondzela game park. Only now that I have been home from South Africa for six days can I appreciate just what a privilege it was to share space with those creatures, impala and wildebeest, zebras and warthogs, who would normally run like hell to get away from a murderous human like me. If a couple of unicorns had emerged from the bushes it would have seemed quite natural.
What was I doing there in Swaziland? Well, more than a year ago an IT guy from Pretoria with a fondness for motorcycles took it into his head to send me an email offering to fly me to South Africa and take care of me when I was there. How could I refuse?
I didn’t know him. More to the point, he didn’t know me, but having read the book I guess he wanted to.
Well, it turned out he thought I lived in England, and the fare from San Francisco was a bit out of reach, but fortunately a fellow called Steve Berry who organizes Wilderness Lectures in Bristol invited me to put in an appearance there in November, and that took care of my United flight from SFO.
It’s happy coincidences like that which give life an extra lift. The lecture was rewarding for me, and about 300 people had an enjoyable winter’s evening. I had time to take my MP3 back to Stephen in Hampshire, got a wonderful lunch into the bargain, and the next day I was off to meet Ben Breedenkamp at Johannesburg airport.
Ben is one of those interesting people who don’t let social inhibitions get in the way of their enthusiasms. He’s young, fit, fashionably bald, with a joyful wife, a sweet little daughter, two bikes in the garage, a company car and some very good friends.
Among his friends is Roger, part owner of Bavarian BMW who was persuaded to put up the airfare in exchange for a couple of talks by me. Heike, Ben’s wife, gave me their bedroom over my protests, and after a rather grueling 24-hour flight via Dubai, I sank gratefully into their double bed.
Next day we set off for Swaziland. There were four of us on bikes. I was on a brand new F800. Next to me were Bruno, Ben and Adriaan. Heike with her little girl, and a peaceful giant from Italy called Corrado, followed in the car. On our way there, just after Ermelo, I was struck by a guinea fowl.
I watched this incompetent bird with amazement as it lurched out of the bushes and sailed into my path. It tipped the edge of my should before bouncing off in a flurry of feathers.
For the first time in my life I was glad of my narrow shoulders. Another inch and it could have knocked me off the bike.
I took it as a good omen, and in fact the whole ten days of my visit to South Africa was made in heaven.Pretoria and Cape Town treated me like royalty, and my audiences really seemed to get it.
In Cape Town Renette Rauch, a tall young dirt rider who also happens to be a lawyer, lent me her 1200 GS which was in just the right state of decrepitude to make me comfortable, except that I had to stand on the pegs to get a good grip on the brake (well, not really)
I was given a complete rental cottage with every conceivable mod. con. in a lovely sea-side suburb – and I have to mention the owner because if you ever take your family to Cape Town you really have to check out Chris Grinton’s place, at www.themanorcottage.co.za You could not find a better billet.
Back in Pretoria, a big bonus. In Jupiter’s Travels, somewhere around page 170 depending on the edition, is an account of my arrival at Mader’s Hotel. Adriaan told me it’s still there and we went to look. It’s a shriveled and dilapidated version of what I hold in my memory, but for a few moments I relived those days in 1974 – a bitter-sweet memory from so long ago.
Then we went on with Bruno to Mader’s restaurant, home of the kilogram steak and the biggest collection of junk I’ve ever seen.
And later, with much pride, Adriaan took me to visit the huge granite Afrikaaner monument to the voortrekkers, his ancestors, who sought the same freedoms that first brought white men to America.
It’s great to be celebrated, the beau of the ball. In this age of image and perception it amazes me that an elderly, rather cerebral-looking man of quite un-athletic appearance should be so honoured as a pioneer in what is, after all, a rather macho mix of motorcycles and adventure. It’s just as well, I suppose, that I know how to write a book, otherwise in all probability none of this would have come my way.