Cycling Around the Holeby Samora Chapman / 27.07.2012
In the centre of Azania is a great big hole. And alongside it is a quiet little town called Kimberley. It’s quite unlikely that you would ever go there out of your own volition (unless you’re a skateboarder). It’s more like a place where you stop off on your way to somewhere else. And that’s my favourite kind of place.
I recently travelled to Kimberley for work. The assignment: four days to tear around the entire region gathering photos and information for the district’s official tourism guide. I love and hate tourism work. On one hand I get to travel and see new places, meet people and take pics all day. On the other hand I frequently get lost, fall prey to local stakeholders who drag me on wild goose chases, and end up experiencing a place in fast forward, all the memories a blur and oblivion.
Not quite a brave artistic pilgrimage… but almost travel journalism, if you’re feeling optimistic. One day I’m gonna be laughing from my camel as I stroll the Sahara with my posse of Bedouin. But for now it’s places like Kimberley, Newcastle or Secunda on a four-day deadline.
Back in a windowless office in Poison City and I begin something like this….
“The Frances Baard Municipality is a place of wide-open spaces, where golden savannahs stretch as far as the eye can see. It is a place of arid natural beauty, where resilient green cactuses and tenacious thorn trees fill the landscape, and bright yellow sunflowers can be seen following the sun’s arc across deep blue skies. This landscape is divided by five gushing rivers: the Vaal, Orange, Modder, Harts and Riet, which give life to the region and its inhabitants.”
But that’s another story.
So what does the Northern Cape have to offer? In brief… you can start with wine tasting and agricultural tourism in Haartswater, where olives, grapes and pecan nuts grow; walk a dusty street and climb a rusty red train in Warrenton; or visit the rural community on the banks of the gong-gong river where a few locals still dig the ochre earth in search of jewels.
Kimberley is all church spires, monuments and that classic Victorian architecture that makes you feel like time travelling. At the heart of all things is the Big Hole. The biggest manually excavated hole on the planet. A result of the frantic diamond rush of the late 19th century that brought diggers from all over the world in search of their fortune in small, hard, clear rocks. This hole was once described to me as: “a monument to human stupidity,” by the renowned and deranged cartoonist Andy Mason. It’s funny how the wizened adults of your childhood can shape your psyche forever.
But perhaps the most exciting thing happening in Kimberley right now is the natural boom in the culture of bicycle commuting. Kimberley is predominantly flat, like Amsterdam. And this means that the predominantly working class community have taken to cycling as a cheap and healthy alternative to saving up for an expensive old skadonk. Everywhere you look, it seems people have totally embraced this green, healthy and cheap mode of transport. All around town, the traffic will be backed up on the narrow streets and cyclists will be breezing past all bliss. And it’s not only in town. Even on the outskirts of the sparsely populated region… on the dusty roads heading through cotton farms; on the bushy track out to King Galashewe’s grave; or through the thornveld where the boers and the souties slayed one another at Magersfontein Hill – you’ll find people pedalling for the horizon. Squeaky wheels and a smiley wave.
And then as synchronicity would have it my editor at Mahala starts hassling me for a story about cycling. “What like spandex and shaved legs typa shit?” I shake my head. “Nah I don’t really know anything about that.”
“Not spandex bru, commuter cycling, everyday A to B shit.” Explains Andy.
“Nope. Nobody in Durban does that shit. Actually, no one except my brother. It’s fucking hot, hilly and the taxi drivers are mal.”
But I dunno. The seeds have been sown. I’m about ready for some changes. How ‘bout you? I think I might just drive out to Kloof Gorge… drop a brick on my accelerator like they do in the movies. Then shed my clothes, hop on my new steed, a second hand Trek from Dave Wiseman cycles, all bareback and flowing mane… and ride through the streets while screaming: “Burn Babylon burn!”
Before the earth ends up with a Big Hole right in the centre where her heart should be.
**All images © Samora Chapman