As the sun rose at Tala, the rhinos came to bid us farewell on our last day in Africa. Actually, they were just grazing and came along as we were setting up for the balloon ride. They were not amused. They started huffing and stomping and our pilot decided we should move off a bit. What a way to start the day. It was quite an experience to be riding in a basket high in the air at the mercy of the wind. We were close enough to see the giraffes and wildebeests run at the whoosh of the balloon jets. We flew out of the preserve and over farmlands and villages. People waved and children shouted. Our landing in a sugar cane field was gentle. As we waited for the crew to find us, we toasted our adventure with champagne (this is apparently a ballooning tradition, as much for the amusement of passengers as for the appeasement of locals who might not otherwise appreciate a balloon landing in their fields.)
There is a huge Indian population in South Africa. They came over in the late 1800's as indentured servants to work in the sugarcane fields and suffered many years of oppression. In fact, it was in Pietermaritzburg that Gandhi was put off a train for riding in the whites only car. He gave up his career as a lawyer and began fighting for civil rights. Many Indian South Africans now live in Durban. We were advised to go there and taste the curry. Umlanga Beach, just north of Durban, seems very much like southern California, although I think the curry is better and the ocean is warmer. There was a boardwalk, including a path through the trees and marshes where we came upon lots of monkeys! Finally, we changed into our bathing suits and jumped into the waves. They were powerful and exhilarating and made me forget all about the sharks…at least until they pulled everyone out of the water. But, by then we needed to get back to Pietermaritzburg for the closing festivities.
While we were very tired from a long day, I was glad we went to the dinner. We sat with other racers and had some great conversations. For the first time I felt like I belonged in their company. All of us have a passion for riding. Some are more gifted and dedicated to racing, but we all have been drawn into the game and play it well- and sometimes not so well. Igor Kopse, the fastest rider at the road race had a funny crash at the finish line. And I was worried about falling of the ramp. At the end of the race season, we all still want to go out and ride. Indeed, we got up this morning and before packing our bikes for the long trip home, we had a ride. What a beautiful country. I am so lucky to have had this opportunity. The friendships and bonds we have formed together are deep and lasting. I am so thankful to my friends and family and the whole cycling community. I am grateful to Tarmac Iron Bridge Consulting, Westchester Cycle Club and all the individuals who sponsored this trip with their generous donations of time and money. I do hope our experience serves as an inspiration to others. When life throws you a burger, eat it; Savor every bite, enjoy the delicious juices, be nourished and leave the plate clean.