In Tandem with Africa and Asia

A teacher's journey over three continents on a tandem bicycle

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A one way ticket to the Rainbow Nation

I am writing up the South African leg from the calms of Botswana. We are camping at a lovely place called "Elephant Sands"- appropriately if not orginally named due to the two main features of the area. Neither are great for bicycles but more on that later.

Stage 1: South Africa: "Supporting the support Vehicle"

Johannesburg to Pontdrift, July 23rd - 28th

0 punctures
1 written off support vehicle

I am writing up the South African leg from the calms of Botswana. We are camping at a lovely place called "Elephant Sands"- appropriately if not orginally named due to the two main features of the area. Neither are great for bicycles but more on that later.

The South Africa leg started well. We (Myself, Mark Jenkins(i/c logistics), Beth Passey and Fi Ramsden) experienced superb hospitality in Joburg from a variety of people but especially the Braham Family, our hosts for our time in South Africa's capital city. Steve Braham left Cranleigh School (where I currently teach) in 1979. After doing a variety of jobs in the UK, he and few  school mates decided to overland to South Africa in the early 1980s. He hasn't looked back since and he and his wife Sal, daughters Tori, Emma and son James welcomed us as one of their own into their family home. I spent the week in Joburg getting kit together, visiting a couple of schools, including a lecture on the 'economic cycle' to students at the African Leadership Academy and a bit of media, inculding a radio and TV interview.

Steve and fellow Old Cranleighan Steve Sparks organised a send off from Pirates Rugby Club on the Saturday morning. About a dozen South Africans joined us for the relatively easy first day (62Kms) up to Irene, a small town just South of Pretoria. After 2 years of planning, it was good to finally get the trip underway. I had become a bit bored of cycling in and out of London from Cranleigh!

Risana Zita, who had foolishly agreed to cycle after a few too many glasses of wine earlier in the week, stoked for the first section. With the best part of 100kg of prime SA muscle on the back, we made good progress and with the help of a few others (Tori, Anton, Stephan & Mutsi), we arrived at Irene farm for a late lunch, before checking into a B&B owned by Sue, a friend of Sal Braham's. Having grown up in Zambia herself, she was thrilled by Beyond Ourselves' work in Zambia and even managed to dig out of few old Kwacha to donate to the project!

After another evening of superb SA hospitality from an old school friend now surgeon Thinus Smit and his wife Marijete, the second day passed by without incident as Beth and I enjoying a smooth and traffic free ride through central Pretoria (it was a Sunday) and onto the old main road North. With Fi joining us on her own bike, we cruised into Bela Bela (formerly Warmbaths) in the late afternoon and enjoyed out first night of camping. A quick interview with Africa's E-TV who were now following the trip preceded an early night, with everyone in high spirits.

Day 3 was meant to be a relatively straightforward 125km push along to Mokapane with the latest addition to the party, colleague and Uni mate, Richard Humes, joining from the UK to take over from Beth. Fi and I set off on Thandie, enjoying the early morning light on the now increasingly African scenery. We passed through Neilstroom ('stream of the Nile') and were around 10km outside when the accident happened.

We had pulled in for a pit stop. Beth and Mark, who were catching up in the support truck, had seen us and began to slow down and pull over. Sadly, the taxi combi flying up behind didn't notice this manouvere and smashed into the back of it, forcing it off the road into the bush. The guys did brilliantly to miss the trees but couldn't avoid the Land Cruiser rolling. In a mild panic,  and forgetting that Fi was a qualified doctor and expedition medic, I spent the few seconds running across the road desperately trying to remember the basics of the first aid course I had recently attended. As we approached the upturned truck, we found Mark busily kicking out the windscreen. Thankfully DR ABC wasn't going to be necessary, as neither they or any of the passengers in the combi were hurt.

THe next couple of hours passed in a bit of a blur. A seemingly nice old man who had seen the crash checked we were OK before feeling the need to inform me that 'he would have killed that f***** k**** had that been him'. The police were called and the truck taken away (it was subsequently written off by the insurance company). The bad news was broken to the owners of the crusier - my sister's godfather Ant Haggie and his brother David. Ant and I had spent a day in Pretoria getting a brand new canopy fitted. This and the Zambike that was strapped to the roof were trashed. I guess it could have been a lot worse - I'm not sure the bike would have offered the same protection.

After some deliberation, we decided that it was best to crack on with the cycling. Richard had arrived in his hire car - a compact lime green Kia - and we were able to ship the kit onto Mokopane. Fi and I continued the 70kms on the bike, with various 'what if' conversations with Beth finishing off the last 20km.

The following two days involved frantic phone calls trying to get the trip back on track. Ant was due to join us in Polokwane and come with us all the way to Livingstone. Without a vehicle, it was going to be impossible to carry on with the full party. With most suitable hire companies declaring lack of avialiablity, we were again subject to amazing generosity from out South African network. Beth had been in South Africa the week before on business and put out an S.O.S. to a few of her clients (making several calls and emails from the back of the Tandem). All of them were keen to help and we were blown away when SA Bank Investec agreed to source us a vehicle until Kasane, only 100kms short of Livingstone.

With Spirits high and having said goodbye to Beth at Polokwane airport, the 160km to Murla Camp near All Days seemed relatively straightforward. Whlist it might not have been the 'warm-up' that Richard had envisaged, we cruised into the camp with an hour of daylight to spare and were quickly caught up by Mark and Ant in the new truck. A few beers were enjoyed around the fire, which we shared with a couple of Texan 'liberal' hunters. Two guinea fowl has been their sole bag that day. Having done a bit of shooting myself as a kid, I didn't ask what state the birds were in having been hit by a bullet meant for a buffalo.

A restful night and 50km of easy cylcing later, we arrived at Pontdrift, enjoyed some banter with the border police and took the 'cablecar' across the greasy Limpopo river to Botswana. The support truck, not wanting to risk fording the river, had taken the long way round. The news greeting us on the other side was that they were stuck  in the sand... it had been a week of the bike supporting the support vehicle.


ps I haven't had much time to get photos uploaded yet onto the website but the facebook group page is getting updated more regularly!

Safari a Velo in Botswana
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