Friday, 10 July 2015

Queens Mercy to Malekgalonyane

We left the Queens Mercy store at 07:30 and wiggled through the village that lay beyond. Fairly soon we were bouncing down the rutted district road that led to Mparane, Janine as always up ahead and me trailing behind. Having never ridden this section at that time of day I was pleasantly surprised to see school children out in their hundreds making their was to the various schools, differentiated by the varying colours of their uniforms. Many keen to greet us as we passed by. 

Nearing Mparane village we came across dozens of workers who, judging from their overalls, were working with Working for Water. Their job is to rid the area of wattle trees that exist in innumerable forests in that area. Time will tell if their efforts yield any results or if it is merely a community upliftment exercise in that money flows into the area. The area could certainly do with the money. 

Wattle trees were imported from Australia in 1864, initially for shade and firewood. During the middle part of the last century they were found to contain a high percentage of tannin (used for tanning leather) and were grown in massive numbers that supported a thriving export market. Australia being one of the countries that imported tannin from South Africa. Those heydays are over but the invasive wattle survives. They play an important role today as firewood. The harvesting of wood for this purpose has resulted in massive erosion scars across much of the rural landscape where the are harvested. They are cut and tied together in massive bundles and  then dragged behind oxen and more recently by tractors. As destructive as this practice is in terms of soil erosion it does produce the most wonderful riding tracks imaginable as they rise and fall over the landscape for many kilometre at a time. In places the rocks have been polished smooth by the process. 

As I watched the workforce gathering with the purpose of removing the wattle I wondered if any real attempt had been made to improve the electrification of the area. Without electricity and accessible firewood how were people to cook and heat water? Riding in that area we often see people busy harvesting the wattle for firewood so it seems that it is still an important resource. 

Arriving at the base of the Mparane ridge we engaged our inner mountain goats and scrambled up on to the ridge. For the next 30 minutes we rode along the the firewood drag path that runs the length of those mountains. I use the word 'rode' in its loosest sense as I was often reduced to walking. Legs hadn't come around yet. I didn't make much use of my gear shifters. I was either freewheeling, walking or trickling along in granny gear. As I commented at the time, it wasn't the most epic of strategies but it was working. The mighty Tim James was just ahead and the powerhouse that is Andrew Barnes was still behind us. 

 Dropping off the ridge we made our way down to the river crossing, rode across the grass covered spur above the Mariazell Mission station before dropping off the last ridge that saw us reach the road at the mission station entrance. A pedal and a short push had us arriving at Malekgalonyane. It was 10:25. We had plenty of time to refuel before pushing through to Tinana where we planned to overnight. 

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