November is a very busy time in the Eastern Free State with two signature events heralding the start of summer and the countdown to the festive season – the Fickburg Cherry Festival and the Roof of Africa off-road motor cycle event in Lesotho. When you live in a small town it is always exciting to have something different going on that brings people to the area. It often rains heavily over the Cherry Festival weekend creating lots of challenges for the organisers, but this year it was very hot and humid. There were big thunderstorms swirling around on Friday afternoon, but it was clear for the weekend’s various sporting events (running, cycling, golf, horse riding, bowls) and live entertainment at the Ficksburg Showgrounds.
I went out on Saturday morning to see what was happening and ended up scrumming with other shoppers to buy cherries at the Constantia farm stall and The Cabin near Clocolan. There was also a little market and I bought some gorgeous ceramics from Mud Studio, one of our local success stories, and some dried oyster mushrooms and oyster mushroom pate from the Umpukani stall. All very delicious!
I came home wanting to bake a hazelnut cherry tart using a recipe that I have been saving for the occasion. To my disappointment, one of the phases on our electricity line was knocked out by lightning on Friday afternoon so our oven didn’t work until late on Sunday. The tart idea was abandoned and the cherries were enjoyed as is, which was definitely much healthier! It is a pity that the cherry season is so short, but it is great to live in an area where one can get them fresh off the farm.
The Roof of Africa has been held in Lesotho for the past 45 years. It is one of the most gruelling races of its kind in Southern Africa as riders are challenged by high altitude (up to 3000 meters above sea level) and technical riding on rocky terrain. It requires a feat of physical effort and skill to complete the three day ride and many do not finish, hence the tag line “I survived the Roof of Africa”. This year had the youngest winner ever, 16 year old Wade Young.
We were invited by our friends Andre and Ziona to see the start of the race in Maseru. The first stage is called “Round the Houses” because the race starts in the middle of town and the route winds through the suburbs mainly to encourage some local spirit and to get the guys going on easy terrain. There were almost 500 riders in this year’s field in three different categories: professional, expert and intermediate. Ashley’s step-dad, Alex, was doing the race for the 20th consecutive time and we met up with them briefly at the start. It was a great morning of socialising in another country watching a sport that I had never seen before. The bikes are very loud and the guys look very hot in all their gear, but it is always nice to see people getting excited about their sport. Next year we will have to go and watch the real action up in the mountains to appreciate the physical effort required to finish The Roof.