Boots and Saddles

So after a short pause for Bubbles to recover from the prospect of having to take a Sporster with to quote him “more ass hanging off the seat than on it” and then another pause while he fitted his 12 inch windscreen which he had loving dragged with him all the way from Abu Dhabi, we finally mounted up and headed off like so many intrepid explorers in South Africa before us, in search of Gold. Our destination was a sedate 50 or so kilometers away at Gold Reef City. What was once a highly productive gold mine has been tranformed into a theme park. It is possessed of all the requisite tackiness of a theme park and is a thinly disguised mechanism for extracting as much money from its visitors as possible once they have paid their entrance fees. But when in Rome…  We opted for the full two and half hour tour including a historical film about the discovery of gold, a visit underground into the mine workings and a demonstration of pouring a real gold bar. We arrived at about midday, and the tour started at 2pm so we repaired to Mugg and Bean for provisions – its a South African franchise so if its going to be any good its going to be here we thought and we were undoubtedly right. Portions enough to satisfy any hungry prospector, and very tasty – and that was just the waitress. Anyway, stuffed and satiated we wandered over to the meeting point and met our guide Patricia. She proceeded to take us on an excellent and informative tour of the mine – at least the highest level – the mine when working went down about 3000 metres, but most of that is now flooded and we went down to 290 metres. We were equiped with shiny yellow hard hats and a very slick miner’s lamp with a lithium battery that weighed almost nothing – a far cry from those halcyon days of Kit Hill and Devon Great Consols armed with a similar lamp, but a whacking great lead-acid battery to provide the power. After a rather sedentary descent we stepped out into mine – and followed a short trail explaining the process of digging the levels, shoring up the roof, using explosives and getting the gold bearing rock out of the ground – we saw an actual gold seam and if I remember patricia’s explanation correctly it required shifting a ton of rock to get 4 grammes of gold – interestingly if perhaps not surprisingly the white workers got paid about double what the black ones recieved. An hour or so later, we re-surfaced and the tour concluded with a demonstration of pouring gold from crucible, into a mould to produce an ingot of gold. It certainly felt like the real thing when i picked it up. It was certainly heavy enough to be worth about 400,000 dollars, probably the largest amount of money i’ve had in my hand at any one time – and with the price of gold increasing by the minute it increased by about 3 percent in the time I had it in my hand. Blinking back out in the sunlight we rounded up the stragglers and headed back towards civilisation although unfortunately got caught up in the rush hour traffic – now i really appreciate those wings i fitted on my bike to keep the heat of one’s nether regions – you don’t feel the heat off those 96 cubic inches when you are cruising along, but stuck in a traffic jam and everything soon gets unbearably hot. Eventually we had to pull over on to the hard shoulder – which is apparently illegal in South Africa unless you have actually broken down. Our solution, very kindly endorsed by one of the local traffic police (also a biker) was to scoot along the hard shoulder so that we didnt have to stop – although even doing that it took us a good hour and a half to navigate our way the mere 50 cliks back to civilization and slide into our seats at a fine restaurant near the B&B.  The name of the place was Rocket I believe and aside from a fantastically accomodating waitress and barman who fixed us all kinds of wierd drinks including a watermelon marguerita and fantastically tasty steaks, it boasted pound for pound more cute blondes than I have seen for a long time … there’s a joke there somewhere about rocket in your pocket, as well as in the salad and in the name of the restaurant, but i’m too tired to work it out, so just exercise your imagination.

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