Span­ish cou­ple en­joy their stop in Port Al­fred

Talk of the Town - - News - JON HOUZET

Span­ish cou­ple cy­cling across South Africa hit the coast for the first time last Satur­day when they en­tered Port Al­fred, and have been charmed and de­lighted by our town.

First-time vis­i­tors to South Africa Ivan Martinez, 31, and Manon Saenz, 32, de­cided to take a trek by bi­cy­cle across the coun­try, start­ing in Polok­wane on Septem­ber 10 and keep­ing to an in­land route which took them through the ru­ral heart­land. They av­er­age about 60km a day and so far have trav­elled 1,700km.

They were im­pressed with the beauty of the coun­try­side, trav­el­ling through Haen­erts­berg, Tza­neen, Sa­bie, Nel­spruit, Bad­plaas and Chrissies­meer, which Martinez de­scribed as “very ru­ral, and one of the tough­est places.

“There was a big storm as we ar­rived.”

They loved the in­land lakes and con­tin­ued on to Piet Retief, Paulpi­eters­berg, Vry­heid,

ADundee, close to Eland­slaagte and then through Collings Pass where they saw beau­ti­ful moun­tain scenery. From there they headed to Har­ri­smith, the Golden Gate Na­tional Park, Clarens, Ficks­burg, Lady­brand, Zas­tron, Lady Grey, Ko­mani, Hogs­back and the Great Fish, where they spent last Fri­day night be­fore cy­cling to Port Al­fred early on Satur­day morn­ing.

“The Great Fish was so spe­cial,” Saenz said. “We didn’t know we were go­ing to see wildlife – we saw buf­falo. We only found out af­ter­wards we should not have been al­lowed in the na­ture re­serve on bi­cy­cles.”

Martinez said they had al­tered their route as they met peo­ple along the way.

“We’ve ex­pe­ri­enced such in­cred­i­ble hospi­tal­ity,” he said.

“Afrikaans farm­ers who in­vited us to stay on their farms. We stayed a whole week be­tween Clarens and Fouries­berg, just en­joy­ing the mid­dle of nowhere, look­ing at the land­scape and cat­tle.

“We met some­body in Blyde River Canyon who has a brother in Port Al­fred and he said we must come here as we could stay with him.”

That did not work out, but af­ter spend­ing the night with this re­porter, the cou­ple were happy to check into a B&B in Hards Street be­fore friendly lo­cal Stu­art Laven­der also in­vited them to stay at his house be­fore they de­parted on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Martinez said he had pre­vi­ously cy­cled solo across Mon­go­lia, cover­ing about 1,800km, four years ago.

“Manon is the first per­son I felt I could do some­thing like that with. She got fit along the way and now is very fit,” he chuck­led.

“I wasn’t a cy­clist be­fore this,” Saenz said. “I had a bi­cy­cle, but I wasn’t a se­ri­ous cy­clist.”

Martinez said he grew up in a trav­ellers’ fam­ily, but de­cided to cy­cle af­ter a knee oper­a­tion as he was told it was good ex­er­cise.

Both he and Saenz stud­ied medicine, and Saenz was al­ready work­ing as a doc­tor when they met. Martinez still has three months to go be­fore he qual­i­fies.

They live and work in Ber­lin, Ger­many.

Even af­ter he qual­i­fies, Martinez said he did not want to work full-time as a doc­tor be­cause he val­ued his free time too much.

Asked why they chose South Africa for their trip, he said: “I didn’t know much about South Africa be­fore this trip. We’re do­ing it as a test to do the whole Africa, which should take about one-and-a-half years. If I like it and Manon likes it, then we’ll do it.”

He said they had both learned a lot on their jour­ney.

“I don’t read the news and know what’s go­ing on with pol­i­tics. Now I know be­cause I met peo­ple. We didn’t know the land­scape ei­ther. Now we know and ev­ery day the land­scape changes.”

They have had no bad ex­pe­ri­ences on the road.

“We’ve been warned by a lot of peo­ple, but we’ve never been un­safe. But we have taken care,” Martinez said. “My in­tu­ition tells me if some­thing doesn’t feel right.”

They try to travel of­froad as much as pos­si­ble, but some­times it’s not pos­si­ble. They did not care much for the R72 with­out safe shoul­ders for cy­clists, and got some good ad­vice to travel by farm road to Alexan­dria be­fore con­tin­u­ing their jour­ney to Port El­iz­a­beth and their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion in Cape Town.

Pic­ture: JON HOUZET

A GOOD BREAK: Show­ing the map they use to plot their jour­ney, Ivan Martinez and Manon Saenz re­lax for a drink at Kenny’s in Port Al­fred on Satur­day af­ter a hard day’s cy­cling, dur­ing their marathon trek across South Africa

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