Like so many towns in South Africa, in order to get to the city center, I had to first cycle through a large township. This was the case as well when I cycled into the center of Burgersdorp, South Africa.
And like almost every other South African city I visited during my near three months in South Africa, I had no idea what I would find in the city once I reached it. I was hoping, however, that Burgersdorp had a hotel. After a quick spin around town, I realized that my lodging options were limited. There was one hotel and few small B&Bs. I personally dislike B&Bs, so I went straight to the hotel and asked about the prices on their rooms.
The white woman running the hotel informed me that they had private rooms for 300 Rand per night.
I then asked her if she would give me a discount if I were to stay for three nights. She didn’t flinch and quickly reduced the price to 250 Rand per night.
The hotel was old, but the rooms were really rather nice. The place felt like an old wild-west hotel. There were wooden floors in the rooms and a big balcony running the length of the entire upstairs. From the balcony I had an excellent view of the city center, the church in the center of the main square and the people down below.
While there was very little to see or do in Burgersdorp, the best thing about this hotel was that they had just installed an unlimited Internet connection. In fact, this was the only hotel that I stayed at in all of South Africa that had Internet.
Because of the cheap rooms and the unlimited Internet access (which wasn’t accessible from my room, but only from the main lobby in the front room), I ended up staying in Burgersdorp for five nights. I could have easily stayed longer, but I felt pressured to leave simply because I had been there for so long. I did not want to leave that Internet connection!
Most of my days in Burgersdorp went like this:
Wake up and go downstairs to do about 3 hours worth of computer/Internet work. As soon as the battery on my laptop ran out, I’d go back up to my room and plug my laptop in so as to recharge the battery. Then I would go on a hike in the mountains above or around the city. While out hiking I’d eat a packed lunch and then return to the hotel a couple hours later – my laptop battery now fully charged. Then I’d return to the hotel’s main lobby and do 2-3 more hours of computer work. When my laptop battery died again, I’d order dinner from the hotel restaurant and then return to my room with my dinner and my laptop. My laptop would then recharge while I was eating and I’d return to the hotel lobby late in the evening to do just a little bit more Internet work before calling it a night. Then the next day I’d wake up and do it all over again.
Here are some of my photos from my five night stay in Burgersdorp, South Africa:
During my first night in the city I went and watched a few minutes of a local soccer game. There weren’t a lot of people at the game, but the people that were there were dancing and singing and really enjoying themselves. Few people were actually watching the soccer game. Most of the people in attendance seemed to be there simply to enjoy themselves. It was a fun, loud environment… and I was the only white person there.
My favorite place in Burgersdorp was this large hill that overlooked the city. I climbed up there two times during my time in Burgersdorp. The second time I went up there I encountered my first South African wildebeest. They really scared me when I first saw them because they were jumping around and making farting noises and I wasn’t sure what they were. But once I got a bit closer I was able to figure out that they were wildebeest. They were very much aware of me and they wouldn’t let me come anywhere near them. When I got close, they would run off in the opposite direction… and boy were they fast!
One day in Burgersdorp I bought a kite at the local supermarket for only 35 Rand (about $3.50 USD). I thought that flying a kite would be a fun thing to do while killing time in the city. Unfortunately, the kite was so cheap and poorly designed that it did not even work. I tried flying it for several hours, but could never really get it to stay in the air. I tried making several modifications to the kite as well, but nothing seemed to work. It was a piece of junk… and after about two hours of working on the kite, I broke it to the point that it could no longer be repaired.
The most memorable experience I had in Burgersdorp came from one of the women who worked the front desk as the hotel. This woman was a real talker and it kind of annoyed me at times how much she talked because I would sit down in the lobby trying to do some work and she just wouldn’t shut up. And she seemed oblivious to the fact that I was trying to work. But one day she told me a story that I will likely not soon forget.
I ‘m going to give you the Cliff Notes version of the story, but here is basically what she told me.
First of all, she was walking down the street with a friend of hers when a man in a car approached. The man pulled up to the women in his car and meaning to hit the brakes, he accidentally hit the gas instead. The woman and her friend were both hit by the car, but she became sandwiched between the car’s front bumper and a nearby tree. She ended up breaking about a dozen ribs, was bleeding all over the place, and had to have some serious surgeries in order to recover from the accident.
Then, about a month or two after she was involved in this accident, she had her mentally disabled son run around the side of the house to see if any of the switches on the electrical box were switched down. They were doing some work on the house and there was some kind of problem with the electricity. Well, the boy did as he was instructed and went to check on the electrical box. But when he touched the box, he was electrocuted! A young girl (I think she was a family member of some kind) saw the mentally disabled boy convulsing from the electric shock he had received and ran back to the adults nearby saying that the boy had been stung by a bee. She didn’t know that he had just received a lethal electric shock.
Well, by the time the adults reached the boy, he was down on the ground and struggling to breath. The woman grabbed the boy in her arms and saw him breath his last breath, close his eyes and die. At the time, the woman still didn’t know why her son had just died. She, and everyone else in the area, was in shock!
The woman concluded the story by telling me that when the coroner looked at the body of her son, he said that he had never seen anyone so black on the inside. He said that all of her son’s internal orders had been burned to a crisp and that there was no doubt that he had been fried from the inside out by the bad electrical box on their house.
The woman told me this story in a much more graphic and emotional way that I am telling it here, so as she told me this story, I was about to pass out in one moment (when she was telling me about being sandwiched between the car and the tree) and crying in the next moment (when she told me about holding her son as he breathed his last breathe and how she blamed herself for his death).
While I enjoy the cycling aspects of bicycle touring, I will probably forget about most of the places I visited during my time in South Africa. This story (and stories like it), however, will stick with me for a very long time. These are the things that make bicycle touring truly life-changing.