Annual Club Ride 2014

The persistent ring of my cell phone embarrasses me.  No doubt that it irritates my fellow passengers aboard the modified-for-game-viewing, Land Rover 110.  Our tour guide Siya (as in see-ya-ta-morah), is explaining the more pertinent facts about the herd of some 600 Buffalo that wander the Addo National Park.  I've missed all this information as I silence the ringing and listen to my wife, apparently not speaking directly into her phone.  She is talking at a million-miles-an-hour.  I can hear that she is concerned and that whatever the matter may be, it involves my son.  I end the call and promptly send an SMS to say that I'll phone in twenty minutes, by which time our game drive will be over.  Almost.  Actually, thirty minutes will be more accurate.

In turn I receive an SMS to say: "B rolled car".


Unable to get away from the office early, I had planed to ride to Aliwal North, overnight and ride on to Cradock to catch up with John and Renier before breakfast on Saturday.  Once again only the three of us on our annual trip, John decided there's was no need to ride to Cradock and thus  we three were met at the Three Fountains, just outside Ladybrand.  I walked in dragging off my helmet as my two companions were about half through the first beer.  They can not have had to wait more than a few minutes for me.

Immediately held up in a road block, John makes light of it chaffing the dark uniformed girl that she must jump on the back of his bonie.

We rode as last year, with some trepidation the road to Wepener and Zastron. There is every sign that works continue, as ... "Yellow-truckers fill in their ANC glory-holes!"  With relief we reached the new piece of road before sunset and stopped in Rouxville to clean visors before riding the last twenty or so kilometres as twilight descended.  Despite this precaution, moments later we were all three hit by a cloud of yellow-green insect that splattered themselves over visors, helmets, jackets and bikes.  Aargh! The Bugblatter beast!

It was a mess to clean up!

Comfortably installed at the Riverside Lodge, we enjoyed a warm evening sat out on the deck, swollen Orange River gliding by.  Our waiter is astute and instructed to replenish the draught before glasses are empty. An unremarkable pizza, before retiring to the room with a bucket of ice. With a degree of surprise John let the spook out of the first whisky bottle.    We noticed that it was 3 am.


After a gentleman's breakfast and a mild bike-cleaning session, we rode on to Burglar’s Dorp for fuel. Towards mid day we noticed on our left atop a large hill, several of the giant turbines that will be the Cookhouse Wind Farm.

We have taken onboard more fuel in Paterson and momentarily considered a beer in the least-inviting Sports Bar that we’ve ever seen.  Laughed it off and rode to the Addo Elephant Park where we arrived in the middle of lunch service.  It took a while to find a table and even longer to get the attention of a waitress.  I walked up to the counter and organised three draught beers before we would have expired of thirst.  Three o’clock soon arrived and we boarded the appointed Land Rover.

Now my attention is no longer with elephants or anything to do with game drives.  Little that I can do, but to wait for news of my son and his accident.  We dress for the road, leathers, helmets and gloves, but I am un-focussed.  We ride on to Port Elizabeth, the sun quickly sinking to the horizon.  John guides us without hesitation to Sir Roy’s Guest House.  There is some confusion as the gate closes to a very small car park accessed on the corner of a steep hill.  I make use of the time to reposition my bike for a reverse entry.   Our accommodation turns out to be magnificent.  Renier and I share an airy spacious comfortable room overlooking the harbour.  I am aware that in front of us is the boat on which we will fish tomorrow.  Just can’t be sure which one it is.

Our landlady puts us in contact with a local taxi co.   The dude arrives within a few moments.   We state that we want to eat and he asks “Do we like steak, do we like seafood?” 
"Yes, of course, that’s exactly it!"  
“I’m not going to charge you” he returns, as he drives not more than one hundred metres, to his own restaurant!  It’s cool.  Waitresses all dressed alike tender to our thirsty needs.  An outstanding meal follows.  Meanwhile, a steady flow of German tourists fill the tables around us.


I am already awake.  The alarm rings at 04:45.  As arranged I phone John to make sure that he's awake too.  I wake Renier also.  At 05:00 our taxi driver calls the Landlady, who in turn calls John, not sounding too happy at this hour on a Sunday morning!

At 05:15, we meet the taxi driver, decided the previous evening.  Less than five minutes later he leaves us at the Ski-boat club in the harbour.  We meet with the skipper of our charter boat, also John.  Everyone calls him Big John.  The same name is painted large on the side of his boat. He's not as big as our John, but rather more stout!  Three gentlemen are introduced who will be sharing the charter with us.  A guy from Bloemfontein, spectacles, and a round, jolly face.  He has two visitors, one from Brazil and another from Iran.  Handshakes and greetings all around before we follow Big-John onto the floating jetty, towards the mooring and quickly aboard the boat.  We are cast off and soon making speed across the flat calm of the harbour.  A radio call to the harbour master grants permission to exit the port and the city lights soon disappear behind us.

Dawn creeps up on us, rather unspectacular, a grey mist out towards the ocean.  We pass a large freighter at anchor in the bay and then to the landward side of Brenton and St. Croix islands.  Big John has a mark and using both GPS and fish finder drops anchor with precision.  All eyes are on Big-John while he begins to prepare the choka for our bait, he introduces Vernon his assistant and all-around helpful guy.

The first baited rod is handed to Renier, and he drops the line over the side while more rods are readied.  In less then three minutes Renier has a fish on board.  A fair size, we are informed a 'Red Soldier' but also goes by many other names.  Romans, to us.  Our-John and I soon have lines in the water, fishing at about fifteen metres.  I can feel nibble, nibble, nibble.  My line goes quiet, as does John's.  "I think we'd best pull them up and see if there's any bait left", he says.  I am embarrassed to find my hook bare.  All that carefully prepared bait, gone so quickly.  During the morning I get used to this and am no longer embarrassed.

Renier is not feeling well and is feeding the fish over the side of the boat.  His rod is in a holder, he bumps it by accident and rod, reel and line go overboard heading straight for the deep.  We all look at each other in surprise!  Presently, Our-John hooks a couple of Raggies, about one and half metres each.  Again John’s line becomes tight and standing next to him I know too that he’s hooked something big.  Then it stops.  “Do you think I’ve got the plug?” 
Big-John replies, “Well, if you pull the plug, we’ll all have a long walk home!”  He grabs the line in his hand, tests it and thinks that maybe the hook is in the reef.  It’s inconclusive.  But we know and Our-John persists and two turns at a time the line comes in, and sometimes goes out with a whirring noise as the drag on the reel slips.  Big-John now speculates that it’s a flat fish of one or other sort.  After more than half an hour a ray of about two metres in diameter and a spiny tail of the same length, is along side the boat.  Foul-hooked, Vernon leans over the side and cuts it free.

Renier retires to the front deck and Big John passes him a large seat-cushion which Renier places over himself to protect from the rain.  He tries to sleep and not to think about boats and sea-sickness.  Meanwhile, Our-John and I haul out a pleasing assortment of fish and the hold soon contains a respectable catch.  My hands have become very greasy from baiting the hook and no amount of wiping them on a rag seems to make any difference. A gentle misty rain persists. On the starboard Bloemfontein and his guests all take turns at being sick over the side of the boat. 

Towards mid-day Big-John starts the engines and moves off the mooring.  A large buoy attached to the line slowly moves towards the anchor, lifting it close to the surface.  Vernon pulls in the line and stows it forward.  We turn and head back to the port.  Close to one of the islands there is a small boat, commercial fisher-men catching shark on handlines.  These will go to the fish factory to make fish-fingers and crab-sticks.  We pass a school of Dolphin and I guess that there might be two hundred.  “No”, says Our-John, “That’s just the ones you can see.  There are more below the surface”.  We agree that none of us have seen such a large school.  Big-John slows the boat as Dolphin come alongside and put an enquiring eye on us.  Renier thinks about feeling sick again.

We enter the harbour and I spy a large sign: “Port of Port Elizabeth”.  I wonder at it and consider whether it might more appropriately read, Port Elizabeth, or Elizabeth Port or even Starboard Elizabeth Port?  We are soon moored at the floating jetty and four of our party are relieved to return to dry land.  Big-John and Vernon are gracious and guide us out of the rain to the comfort of the club-house, while they take care of the boat and our catch.  The biggest of the Romans is to be kept for paella tomorrow.  Another will go to our landlady, rudely disturbed so early this morning.  Three more find their way directly to the kitchen.

Beer in hand, we reflect on our morning’s adventure and before long a large platter with the freshest fish, chips and salad is placed before us. A feast, enjoyed with a couple of bottles of wine.  Renier leaves us to go and inspect a sprog, latest addition to one or other member of his family.

I settle up with Big-John and thank him for taking good care of us.  It must be said that he has been an outstanding host taking care to ensure our pleasure and comfort at all times.  We three are agreed that we would not hesitate to recommend his service to anyone. Our-John and I return to Sir Roy’s, to shower and snooze away the Sunday afternoon.  The evening is spent once more at the Russian Restaurant, full of Germans and waitresses in different matching outfits.


On a rainy Saturday afternoon many years ago, Alberto had taken John and I to every bike shop in PE, in search of rain suits.  Today, I would like to buy a pair of gloves and it is agreed that John will take us to the spot where we'd been before.  A couple of blind turns, up and down and around the city centre, a bus lane and we soon find ourselves  in motor-town.  Except that every bike shop has gone, moved.  I think that we've reached the end (John didn't) and make a right turn, the better to find our way out of town and on towards Port Alfred, our immediate goal.  We've wasted time enough already.

Suddenly unsure of the way, I turn in the saddle to enquire by means of hand (and waving arm) signals.  Shall we turn left, or continue straight? Hesitation, time to decide ... left!  Mistake!  It's not apparent at first, but we have entered a large Township on the outskirts of PE.  It doesn't take too long to realise this.  In the hope of being able to find a way out, past the old brick power station on to the M2 clearly visible beyond, I make one worse decision after the other.

Evident to every unsmiling face that we pass, we are lost, out of place and unwelcome.  Rabid looking dogs roam the vile and filthy streets.  Trash adorns the side of the rutted street as if it were some festive ribbon.  A tyre burns a column of stinking smoke into the already fetid air. A man urinates by a fence, glaring to inspect who we might be so far out of our own comfort.  We pass a knot of illegally connected electric wires that hang low over the road and spread a huge web connecting a cluster of shanties.

I am nervous and sense, realise that my companions are also.  We do not belong here.  On our shiny-metallic steeds, with black leather, black helmets, dark glasses, incognito but so glaringly not of this place, I feel afraid.  Should something go wrong, how we will ever get out of this hole?  We pass Olof Palme Street.  Asshole!

The way out it transpires, is by the same way that we came in.  After a long looping tour, I am relieved to find the same bridge and the point where we should NOT have turned left.  We three accelerate, out on to the highway, a dash of speed to clear the choking vomit that has been Kwazakhele 1, 2 & 3.

We settle into a comfortable cruise and soon enough reach Port Alfred where helmets are removed in a car park at the seafront.  John is fuming.  It is expected.  The diatribe inevitable, I am prepared and brush it off with a casual "Oh, I thought you wanted to see where chocolates are maid made".  From that moment forth the place of our unpropitious visit has been referred to as “The Chocolate Factory”.

In less than the two minutes which it takes to ride from one seafront carpark to another, all the apprehension in connection with the morning visit to the Chocolate Factory has melted away.

Installed on the balcony of Guido's wood-fired pizza restaurant, draught beer in hand and comfortable in the shade of a large umbrella, we congratulate each other on the success of our endeavours.  Truly a beautiful spot.  Sunshine, cool breeze, beautiful view.  Who could wish for more?  Even our waitress wears a beautiful smile!

The cool breeze turns with great suddenness into a gust that lifts the umbrella from between us before any one can register it's vertical acceleration.  To say that it took off like a rocket, would be no exaggeration.  The airborne sunshade sets course for the Marina, smashing a window pane on the way.  The initial blast of energy spent and overcome by gravity the wayward parasol up-ends and dumps itself unceremoniously at the feet of an elderly couple sitting some few tables away.  Two waitrons arrive to wrestle the rocket into submission.

We share a large pizza and promptly set off for the supermarket to take in provisions for the evening paella.

Standing in Kayser's Beach with a map for Seavale, was never going to work. In trying to figure this out, we end up meeting the mother of Greg, who used to work at John Ro's Pub, Ficksburg.  The same one who spent a while in the nick after some affair with Maria the Russian.  (Why are there so many Russians in this story?) Greg's mom points us to Seavale and soon we admire Mark's recently acquired Beach House. Magnifique!

John wastes no time in despatching the two youngsters to fetch more beer, (thinking that they were going to drive).  As they were not, I walked with them to get a bag of charcoal and one or two other remaining items for dinner.

The assembled party leave for the beach and more fishing.  Renier was kind enough to remain, keeping me company and assisting in the preparation of the evening meal, paella.  The largest of the Red (Soldier / Roman) from yesterday's catch had been cleaned, bagged, frozen and kept for this.  It has done a decent job of thawing itself during the day and at John's suggestion needs only to be scaled before cooking on the fire.

I am particularly keen to have the head, bones and tail, with which to begin the making of a fish-stock.  With the almost-cooked flesh of the fish set one side, now time to get the chicken on the fire.  Meanwhile, Renier  prepares a small mountain of chopped garlic, all of which finds it's way into the paella one way or another.  Some goes under the skin of the chicken, no longer round but snipped to make a flattie.  More joins a good quantity of ginger and is steamed together with the prawn tails.  Yet more joins the mussels, gently simmering.  My intention is to have everything about 80 percent done, before assembling.

Neil and young master Tom pass by and drive down to the beach.  Later we are able to thank Neil for his efforts in arranging our fishing expedition and in particular to point out that he might recommend Big-John's fishing charter to any and all of his customers. 

My wife has prepared a mix of spices for the paella.  I retrieve this from the luggage still attached to my bike and mix it with the rice.  The oven pan turns out to be a close approximation to a paella dish and this is set atop two gas burners on the stove.  Heat a little oil and add the rice-spice mix.  Wait for the rice to become translucent.  A little at a time, add the fish stock.  Wait for the rice to swell, puff up.  Add more stock and repeat this process until the pan is full of rice.  All the while stirring and careful not to catch the bottom and burn.  Now add the fish, portions of chicken, mussels, prawns and garnish with wedges of lemon. Voila!

Wine on the table! A paella to share between friends.  Out on the deck, overlooking the sea.  Once more this day we could not want for more.  For the first time on this trip, this evening we failed to chase the spook.  The dishes are all done.  Thank you to Mark for hosting us.


We turn left off the N2 and follow the R47 and R346 to King William’s Town, this making it unnecessary to pass through East London.  It would  probably be a good road, but it is raining, just not hard enough to make it worth while to get dressed in rain gear. After we stop for fuel the rain abates and by some stroke of luck we manage to remain behind the front as it passes across.  Just as John said we would.  As we ride North through the Eastern Cape into the Free State, we see evidence of much rain, standing water everywhere except the road.

Stopped in Aliwal for a beer our well-trained waiter remembers his instructions from Friday and brings more beer, regardless that we wish for no more.  We negotiate half price, drink up and continue to end our annual ride at the Golf Club in Ficksburg.

Once again this has been a memorable and enjoyable ride, without accident or incident.  Well, almost without incident.  This morning I lost my wallet for half an hour.  The anguish and embarrassment were all real.  I could not have chosen to inflict this upon myself.  I could however have spared my friends, who suffered beside me.  For this, I apologise.  Finally, ‘all is well that ends well’.  We look forward to a ride to Margate for the Africa Bike Week, in May.  And to next year and to all the years to come.

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Lyon Tours & Safaris
Read about our previous adventures:

2007 Lap Lesotho
2008 Kei & Shelley
2009 Route 62
2010 Port Nolloth for  Crayfish
2011 Maputo for Prawns
2012 St. Lucia Fishing
2013 Knysna for Oysters