Frigid in Hanover
Nick Yell gets in the saddle and heads for the Karoo on an anti-fracking mission
Adventure-biking can sometimes be much like camping. You brave the often uncomfortable nature of it all, only to ooh and aah about what a good time you had in a warm pub afterwards.
Yet, falling off in the mud is an accepted part of the fun. Your mates have a good laugh, you smile painfully and, of course, say you're absolutely fine. It's a rite of passage on a waterlogged Karoo trip such as the one we were on. But, with the sun sinking fast, an icy headwind rising and no real idea of where we were going, being cold and wet suddenly wasn't that much fun anymore.
So it was with great relief that we finally saw lights on the stubble-bush horizon. We prayed fervently that it was Hanover.
Some time later we were indeed thawing in front of a fire in the Hanover Lodge Hotel's pub, sipping whiskey until the blood started to slowly ebb back to our frozen fingertips. And, yes, the day's hardships faded and we talked enthusiastically of what lay ahead the next day - and they say fish have short memories.
It was during our meal of enormous Karoo steaks and baked potatoes the size of rugby balls that we met Chris Roux.
Local farmer, raconteur, champion biltong maker, Roux is also the local chopper pilot and has flown more kinds of aircraft than you can shake a stick at. While flying charters in the Soviet Union, where he piloted supply planes to remote settlements peopled by scary-looking exiles in outer Siberia, he once caught a ride with a MiG fighter pilot. Diving towards the earth at a speed of Mach 2, he got such a serious nosebleed that there was blood all over the canopy. The pilot thought it was very funny and pushed the aircraft even faster.
"Some of those Russian pilots were bloody crazy," he said. "A number of them would smoke boom and drink vodka before take-off, not something we'd ever have done in the SAAF. But they could certainly handle those heavy MiGs; there was a real art to flying them."
It was something like -3°C that night. Even though our rooms had those energy-friendly heating panels, hot water bottles and heaps of warm blankets, the three of us looked like Eskimos as we headed to our beds in our long johns, thermal tops and beanies.
The Hanover Lodge Hotel is the only example of Art Deco architecture in this small Karoo town.
Set among the predominant Karoo-style houses of the 1800s, with their stepped-gable facades and flat roofs, this flamboyant style was introduced to Hanover when this grand old 1850s hotel needed to be refurbished in the 1930s. In fact, Art Deco spotting is an altogether pleasing pastime in the Karoo.
A number of examples, such as the Apollo in Victoria West and the Metro in Cradock are old cinemas, and were constructed in this style as its popularity coincided with the proliferation of new cinemas being built in the 1930s and '40s.
Today the hotel is owned and run by Eddie and Beryl Larkin. They moved here from Hermanus some years ago and have lovingly restored and refurbished this grand old lady of the Karoo in keeping with its original character.
"We just love it here," Eddie told me. "We left Hermanus because it had just got too big and busy for us, and we needed a new challenge, so this hotel presented the perfect project for us."
My adventure motorcycling comrades and I were on a project of our own - raising awareness among SA's motorcyclists of the potential hazards of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for shale gas in the Karoo.
And after being looked after royally by the Larkins in their heritage establishment, in almost the very centre of the proposed Karoo fracking zones, we were emboldened to fight another day.