Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bike Shops and Soup Kitchens

Posted from Cradock, South Africa

Port Elizabeth was our first goal upon leaving Cape Town. Other towns and destinations came along the way, but all along we were counting down the kilometers to P.E.

The road to P.E. is a gradual descent, and with a tailwind I found myself wondering when I had last pedaled. I couldn't answer, but to coast into a place we had been seeking for so long was the first real sense of accomplishment on the trip.

Port Elizabeth was also a chance for us to catch our collective breath. We stayed with Romano

Satanassi and his daughters, Maria, Valentina and Martina. Friends of a friend, Orians family had mailed his yellow fever card to them and they hosted us for two days while we waited for it. Meanwhile, we ran errands, worked on our bikes and relaxed.

A touring bike is a lot like a bike tour. It never remains the same. You are always tweaking it, repairing it, adjusting it. It's a living entity. It adapts to you and you adapt to it. Like a marriage, it's not always perfect. There are rough times, frustrating neuroses. Little things that annoy the bejezus out of you. But it's a labor of love, and you're always making your relationship stronger.

I love the sound of a well tuned derailleur: silence. By turning the barrel adjuster on my rear derailleur, I can get eight of the nine gears in perfect alignment. But the second from the top just won't sit right. It tries to shift off of its own accord, so I get on and off and on and off and fiddle with it and eventually we have a manageable compromise.

I spent my time and money in P.E. replacing a handlebar stem and a pitted headset. Orian's bicycle underwent more invasive surgery - he replaced his drop-bars with a straight bar and mounted his shifters on the bar ends, "wing-nut bike tourist" style. Quinn went further still, and dismantled his bike entirely so it could be sandblasted and powder-coated.

"I think I'm a wannabe wing-nut cyclist," said MinWah, while adjusting some facet of her bike.

"It's not really something to aspire to," returned Orian. "It just happens to you. One day you wake up and realize you're that guy where you say 'man, he's been on the road a little too long.'"

On our second day in P.E. Romano's drove us to help out at a soup kitchen. We rode across town in his old diesel Land Cruiser, serenaded by Bocelli and entered the shantytown that contained the soup kitchen.

"I tell you, they have a problem with alcohol," said Romano, as we entered the neighborhood. Sure enough, the landscape was dominated by billboards advertising alcohol. Tall fences with barbed wire atop them thwarted the progress of windblown plastic bags and other trash.

The Ubomi Obutsha Centre serves kids twice a week. The little kids lined up, patient in the queue because they know exactly what gets them soup and what does not. It was mostly boys with a few girls and they were mostly dressed in the black and yellow of some school uniform.

They signed in with their names and received a blue, yellow or turquoise mug filled with a tomato-based noodle and vegetable concoction and a small piece of bread. They sat on upturned crates and dipped bread and drank soup. It was quiet at first, but as the little room filled they broke into animated chatter like any other cafeteria.

They spoke Xhosa, said Romano, one of 11 official languages in South Africa. More than anything this brought home to me how recently apartheid was institutional. English and Afrikaans are invasive, like the Canadian pine trees and the eucalyptus from Australia that dominate the landscape south of the Cape Fold mountain belt.


Vic & Beth said...

Hi guys ... thanks for the snapshots and snapshots in words. Beth and I are enjoying the stories. Be and travel well. We love you all...

cr said...

Hows the harmonica coming, and whats your next destination goal?