Wednesday, September 19, 2012

South Africa Safari August 2012

Pictures and video at the bottom of this post.

Now that we are done the Tour de Tuli, we are off on the next stage of our adventure, Safari.

We traveled due east from Mapungubwe Camp, South Africa, running parallel to the Limpopo River, which in this region makes up the border of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Our drive was 225 kilometers to Kruger National Park. We will be staying at Pafuri Camp for the next 2 nights. Pafuri Camp is 20 kilometers inside the Pafuri entrance to Kruger National Park.

On our arrival, we were treated by a very welcoming staff. Since we arrived early, we were offered brunch while our tents were being readied.

Pafuri Camp is part of Wilderness Safari, their mission is to provide sustainable tourism. We will be staying in tents, though these tents are nicer then most people's homes.

The staff is very friendly and the entire camp is elevated above the jungle floor. You walk on a raised board walk 5 to 6 feet above the ground. This is done for two reasons to keep any predatory animals away from us and to keep us from having a negative impact on the environment.

Included in our visit are two game drives per day. The game drives are in the evening around 3:00 pm to 6:30 and in the morning from 6:00 am to 10:00 am. These times correspond to when there is the most animal activity.

Our guide is Godfrey and what a guide he is! Not only does he know the names and descriptions of every animal, bird, plant, and tree in the South African Jungle, he can spot birds and animals from miles away and then track them down for us to see.

Our first game drive started off birding. We saw some unique and colorful birds, as well as a group of giraffes. We stopped at a natural spring for some tea and a beautiful sunset. It was interesting seeing water in the spring and with the area in such a harsh drought, it had been days since we had seen any type of natural water. Joining us on the game drive was another guest Dave Thomas, not the Wendy's Dave Thomas, but the famous world traveler and accomplished birder. Dave had also done the Tour de Tuli and would now be spending a few days at Pafuri.

With the sundown, Godfrey used a spot light to locate animals and the highlight was tracking a female leopard, what a beautiful animal.

Dinner was excellent. Early to bed as our wake-up call is at 5:30 am. This was sleeping in compared to the times we had been getting up. The tent had all the comforts of home: a high quality bed and bedding, both an indoor and outdoor shower, and a full bathroom.

One negative is Internet access. They say they have it, they charge for it, but it does not work. It would be much better to just say no internet.

Day 2

Today's game drive was into the northeastern part of Kruger along the Limpopo River. We saw additional birds, as well as zebras, warthogs, and lots of Antelope. On our arrival back at camp, we had brunch, another great meal. I can see a pattern here. Eat, go on a game drive, eat, go on a game drive, eat, go on a game drive, etc....

We decided to take it easy this afternoon until our next game drive at 3:00. We hadn’t had the luxury of just hanging around in luxury, so this was very relaxing.

The evening game drive was just as spectacular as the morning. It started out with an elephant sighting just a few feet from where we met for our game drive vehicle. We drove through the jungle to the Lanner Gorge carved by the Levubu (Levuvhu) River, which is the same river the Pafuri camp sits on. We had to be over 1,000 feet above the river. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset. On our drive back, we spotted two aardvarks (ant eaters). Aardvarks are not rare for this area, but spotting them is very rare. Godfrey was over the top excited. Watching Godfrey get so excited, was more exciting for me than seeing the aardvark.

Day 3

In the morning, we had our last game drive and we drove through the fever forest. The fever tree got their name from people thinking malaria came from these trees. Fever trees grow near water where mosquitoes live and bread. Instead of realizing the mosquitoes were responsible for malaria, they thought it was the trees, thus fever tree.

The highlight of the morning drive was tracking a leopard, and seeing it kill a baby antelope. After tracking the leopard, we had morning tea on the banks of the Limpopo and Levubu (Levuvhu) River. This area is known as crooks corner as it is the border of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. Crooks used to jump from one country to the next to keep from getting caught. On the Levubu (Levuvhu) River, there was actually some water and a crocodile and 3 hippopotamus were enjoying it.

We hated to depart Parfuri Camp and we were off to our next adventure in the Sabi Sands section of Kruger. Parfuri is the northern most part of the part of Kruger while Sabi Sands is southern most part of the park.

The 6 hour drive was an easy but long drive with the last 20 kilometers of very rough dirt roads. The 6 hours turned into 7 hours.

We arrived at MalaMala Game Reserve which is one of the largest game reserves in the Sabi Sands area at 7:30 pm traveling the 20 kilometers of dirt road in the dark. The reception was just great and they got us situated very quickly. We missed the evening game drive, but made it in time for dinner. We met Robin, our guide, at dinner.

Day 4

The morning game drive was not quite as early as in Parfuri. We slept in until 6:30 am going on safari at 7:30. While Parfuri is known for it's birding, MalaMala is known for big game. On the first morning, we saw a leopard, lions, lion cubs, elephants, as well as many other game animals. Robin, while a great host, was lacking in his guide abilities. It seems we are following the other guides and not finding the animals on our own.

Scrappy slept in, he has been faking a bad cold. I say faking because I am pretty sure he eyed the MalaMala airstrip and plans to take a few planes on some joy rides, while we are out on our game drive.

The food is not as great as Parfuri, but is as plentiful.

The schedule here is morning game drive from 7:30 to 11:30. Lunch was at 1:00 and then afternoon game drive from 3:15 to 7:00, dinner was at 8:00.

On the evening game drive, we saw 2 male lions. We asked Robin about doing some walking on the game drives. He said he will see what he could do.

Day 5

The morning drive was great. We saw two different lionesses with their cubs, a giraffe, and a leopard stalking a janet. We also did a nice hike as per our request. Robin explained some great information about some of the local trees. One tree that could be used to wipe your nose or butt, one that made great toothpaste and one that made a great toothbrush. He explained that is where the word toilet trees (toiletries) came from.

The evening game drive was very nice. We hit some new parts of MalaMala, as well as seeing hippopotamus, and rhinoceros. Robin is starting to listen to Margarite, thus his guide skills are improving. It seemed the first day he just wanted to make sure we saw lots of animals, quantity vs quality. Robin has now settled down and his focused has moved to quality and our enjoyment has increased significantly.

The food here is good. We start off with a large breakfast, while on the morning game drive we got tea and cookies. Lunch was served at 1:00 which is fit for a king. At 3:00, right before the afternoon game drive we got tea and a large snack. Dinner was at 8:00 and the quality is top, and the quantity is enough for a small army.

Day 6

This is our last day on Safari. We got a great start by spotting a lioness and we followed her for a while until she returned to her den and 2 cubs. It was rather exciting to see these 2 tiny cubs play with their mom. From there, we drove much of the park seeing some elephants, giraffe, and a hippo that was completely out of the water. We then found a leopard sunning himself. On our way back to camp, we saw a single rhinoceros and a group of rhinos.

Day 7

Scrappy will be leaving us, so we need to head back to Johannesburg. This is a 7 hour drive. Once in Johannesburg, we located De Wet's house. He had graciously offered to store our bikes while we continued our travels. With De Wet's help, we got all three bikes packed in under one hour. Once everything is stored, we headed back in to Johannesburg and we have booked the same apartment we stayed at before Premiere Classe.

Day 8

Scrappy has a flight at 6:00 pm. Here is a guy that has flown all over the world by himself in his own or borrowed planes. In this case he will be flying commercial, Johannesburg, to Dakar, to Washington, D.C. to Denver. 30 hours door to door.

As I mentioned, Scrappy fly's himself all over the world, but never commercial. He was a little nervous not about the safety of the flight, but about going through immigrations and customs. Scrappy will be carrying some contraband with him. He will be bringing part of a "Wait a bit tree" and he wants to see if he can graft it with a tree in the United States. He is also bringing some South African grain alcohol Mompur for his brother. He thinks his brother may also have 2 livers and drinking this stuff will prove it.

We had several hours to kill, so we decided to visit the Apartheid Museum. This museum showed a very dark side of South African's recent history. Well worth the visit, it helps you understand the current political climate in South Africa. Just over 20 years ago, discrimination in South Africa was the rule not the exception. Segregation all all races was expected.

Tomorrow we will be flying to Cape Town so we decided to stay at the City Lodge at the Johannesburg airport.

Cheers, DUG



Friday, September 7, 2012

Johannesburg and The Tour de Tuli August 2012

All Pictures and Video are at the bottom. It is hard to take picture while you are riding a Mountain Bike.

Over the last few years, I have asked the world to choose where I should travel to. In 2009, the world sent me to Egypt for a few weeks. In 2010, I spent three weeks visiting Greenland and Iceland. In 2011, I visited Greece and Turkey. For 2012, the winning destination was my home country of Botswana. While Botswana is a beautiful country, it is not that large of a country. I took the liberty of changing the destination to Southern Africa, so if all goes well I will be visiting Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Zambia. This trip will be more than a month long so I will break the story into segments.

There is no better way to see the bush of Africa then by mountain bike. So on part of this trip, I will be completing a 200 mile mountain bike ride through some of the most pristine parts of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The ride is called Tour de Tuli. It is a charity ride where all donations go to a charity called Children in the Wilderness. I want to thank all that donated as we raised over $20,000.00.

I invited my nephew Scrappy along, Scrappy is a world champion mountain biker, I could not think of a better person for our team.

There were some logistical challenges for this trip. I do not usually use travel agents, but with some of the logistics of this trip, I decided to use Chris Liebenberg who is with the agency of Piper & Heath. Later you will find out why I am sure glad I did as I highly recommend Chris.

I had been in the United States since June so I decided to stay after my trip to Florida. This was for two reasons; a family reunion, and a race I was doing "The Jog 'N Hog".

This worked out perfect as mountain bikes and equipment are much less expensive and higher quality in the United States than Botswana.

When Margarite heard about the ride, she immediately joined the team. She was working at the United Nations so she was able to train with us in the United States.

The logistics for this trip was two fold, training and dealing with the bikes.

Training, this was the easy part, besides time and a few injuries, it was relatively easy. Dealing with the bikes was not so easy. Getting three bikes ready for a 200 mile mountain bike ride in an area that if you have a bike failure the only way out is by helicopter is a little stressful. Decisions ranged from what kind of tires to use to what chain lube to use and each decision was just as important as the other. Learning how to service and repair the bike and learning how to pack and ship a bike over a third of the way around the world were some other issues we had to deal with.

We finally got the bikes tuned and riding perfectly then we had to totally disassemble them to pack them up for transport to Southern Africa. We had special bike boxes and checked them as luggage on the flight.

Then it is departure day and we are flying direct from JFK (New York) to Tambo Airport (Johannesburg, South Africa). The flight is 15 hours door to door. I want to give a shout out to South African Airlines for not charging us extra for our bags and bike boxes. I would also like to thank the TSA for taking great care while inspecting our bikes for pipe bombs.

We departed at 11:00 AM New York time, and arrived at 8:00 AM Johannesburg, South Africa the following day (Sunday July 29th). There is a 6 hour time difference between New York and Johannesburg. On our arrival the bags and bikes showed up all in one piece. I reserved a van from Avis Rental Car. You may remember that Avis saved my “you know what” when I was in the middle of Turkey last year. I was trying to get to Istanbul and Hertz had screwed up and Avis saved the day. I thought I would pay Avis back and give them this rental.

I was lucky enough to get the guy “in training” and he had a badge that read, "Avis, we try harder". This guy was trying really hard, but not going real fast. No worries as we were in no rush. Actually, it was way more comical than annoying. Once we got the keys and saw the van, we were in hog haven. We would be traveling with our bikes for the next two and a half weeks and needed a vehicle large enough to hold our bikes, bags, and us, comfortably. This van was huge. The people at Avis were just great and started loading the van for us. Very quickly, they saw a problem. The seats in the van were not removable and there was no way to get our bikes into the van.

I had done my research (part of the stress of taking bikes on an overseas trip) and requested a Kombi VW bus. I went back to my agent in training and he quickly got the supervisor. What a lovely lady! She explained they no longer carry the Kombi at the airport. She understood the issue and would see what she could do. Just like the badge said, "They tried harder", and 40 minutes later, we were on our way though not very fast in a VW Kombi bus. While the Kombi fit everyone, the bikes, and all our gear, the engine could have been a little bigger.

In the past when I have been in South Africa I just hitch rides so this was a new experience. In my travels, I have driven on the wrong side of the road, but never in a standard shift car with the driver side on the right. I am shifting with my left hand, thankfully the clutch, brake, and accelerator were all in the normal place.

Our goal was to stay awake as long as possible in order to avoid jet lag.

For the Tour de Tuli there will be 18 teams of 12 to 20 riders on each team. We were on team Amerifrikaners. How this came about, when I told Chuata I wanted to do the Tour de Tuli, he introduced me to Nicolaas Vlok, Nicolaas who was a serial entrepreneur who at age ten started his first telecommunications company in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the last 7 years, Nicolaas along with his brother De Wet Vlok have organized a team for the Tour de Tuli. Nicolaas pulled some strings and got us on his team.

On the day of our arrival the team was doing a short bike ride and BBQ at the Groenkloof Nature Reserve.

We knew we would not make the ride, though we thought joining for the BBQ would be perfect. We could get some local food and meet some of the other riders on our team. Groenkloof was 35 minutes from the airport. We arrived there about 10:00 AM and although some of the riders had left, we still managed to meet several that were still around. The group had been cooking what looked and tasted like a very sweet sausage. It was delicious and perfect for our first meal of the trip. De Wet explained the meat used in the sausage was a blend of Zebra, Giraffe, and Wildebeest. They always have this sausage when BBQing in Groenkloof as all three animals are native to the reserve.

After the BBQ, we discussed some of the logistics for the ride. It was Sunday and we would not depart for the ride until Thursday. This gave us plenty of time if we had any issues, bike or otherwise to deal with. De Wet offered to store any of our gear at his house while we were traveling. This was very generous and would make the trip a lot simpler. We would later find out De Wet is a real estate mogul in South Africa, think Donald Trump but in South Africa.

Groenkloof Reserve was just outside Pretoria which is 45 minutes north of Johannesburg without traffic, 4 hours with traffic. After meeting everybody, we headed to our apartment in the Sandton section of Johannesburg. Not much to look at from the outside but very nice on the inside the, name Premiere Classe.

Once we were all checked in, and moved all the gear in, (three flights of stairs, no elevator, we chalked it up to part of our training). We assembled Scrappy's bike, only one small glitch a bent disc brake. No fear, with Scrappy's trusty disc brake tool he had it straightened in no time. All combined, we had maybe a few hours sleep in the last 32 hours so we decided to do something less brain intensive. We decided to grocery shop and fill and seal all the bike tires (6 of them). However, we forgot driving in South Africa was very brain intensive. Fortunately, there were three of us driving so we survived with one pilot and two co-pilots.

Grocery shopping was easy but the filling 6 tires took time. We have tubeless tires so we need a compressor to seal the tires to the rim. Most service stations have compressors but the issue was finding a service station. Between the three of us, we had maybe a half functioning brain. Where would a service station be? In the middle of town or near a highway? After we circled the center of town for 30 minutes with no luck in finding a service station, Margarite said, "Maybe we should try by the highway." Service stations galore! We created an assembly line. Scrappy prepped the tires, I sealed them, Margarite filled the sealant, and I then topped off the air pressure. In 30 minutes, we had six tires filled and sealed.

We were all tired and hungry so we took the van back to the apartment and walked to a section of town called Melrose Arch. We knew there would be some great restaurants there. We found an authentic African Restaurant called Moyo.

Day 2

Once awake, we assembled the last of the bikes had some breakfast / lunch (we got a late start). As I mentioned, we arrived in Johannesburg a few days prior to the Tour de Tuli in case we had to deal with any issues with the bikes and to get over any jet lag. Knock on wood, no issues on both accounts.

This gives us some time to see some sites and learn some history. We decided to visit Nelson Mandela's house.

Nelson Mandela donated the house his family lived in for forty years and it was to be used as a museum. The house was located in Soweto and Soweto was originally called Shanty Town. Soweto stands for South West Township. Up until 1990, any white person that wanted to enter Soweto had to apply with the local council and get a permit. As we toured the museum, a 3 room house, we realized the history we were hearing about was not that long ago. Anyone over the age of 40 should remember all the issues with Apartheid and even some of the world wide boycotts on companies that did business with the Apartheid government. On the street that Nelson Mandela lived on also lived Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Peace Prize winner. In fact that street is the only street in the world that can say (if it could talk) two Nobel Peace Price winners lived here.

Walking through Soweto was very safe with lots of street vendors selling locally made crafts. We found another museum, called the Hector Pieterson Museum. Hector Pieterson was the first child killed during a peaceful protests by school children in Soweto on June 16, 1976 and he was 13 years of age.

We spent several hours touring the two museums and walking the streets of Soweto. While very clean and safe, we did see true poverty.

We decided it was getting late and dinner was in order so we decided to try an area in Sandton called Nelson Mandela Square. Navigating Johannesburg is somewhat of a challenge because most streets do not have signs, highway entrances and exits are not marked, and many intersections that have stop lights the lights do not work. I called these honor system lights. The traffic to Sandton was heavy as it was rush hour. We saw a fairly substantial accident on the highway where a car plowed into the back of a truck. While it looked like help had arrived, they did not block any lanes and the first responders simple dodge cars as they tried to cross over (on foot) to the accident. It was a live game of frogger.

The area where the Nelson Mandela Square was located was as rich as Soweto was poor. Clearly South Africa is a land of haves and have not's. The Square had many high end stores and restaurants. We ate at Lekgotla and it was very, very good. We all tried the raw crocodile. There is a chance of crocodile attacks during the Tour de Tuli so we thought we should eat them before they eat us!

Day 3

We met up at Groenkloof Reserve with some of our team to do a short check out ride. We wanted to make sure both the bikes and ourselves were in good working order. On the ride was our host De Wet, Steve (a professional photographer) and descendent of Ansell Adams, and Karl. Karl was the head mechanic on Team Radio Shack a few years back. Karl is known around the world as the bike whisper.

A perfect morning for a ride as we were only about 48 kilometers outside of Johannesburg. If not for the highways and power lines, you would have thought we were in the middle of the African Jungle. We rode next to zebra, giraffe, sable, impala, wildebeest, and even a few ostrich. At one point while taking a picture of a giraffe, Steve was almost broad sided by an impala. The ride was just incredible and we could get within a few feet of the animals. Everything checked out perfect all the bikes operated fine and our bodies held up.

From the bike ride, we headed to the Voortrekker Monument It is a unique Monument which commemorates the Pioneer history of Southern Africa and the history of the Afrikaner. South Africa had an expansion similar to the Western Pioneer Expansion in the United States

We had dinner plans so after a long walk through the monument, we headed back to town for a little nap before dinner. Dinner was at Lekgotla, the same restaurant we ate at the night before. We meet a few more riders at dinner: Maeson, who is an international liquor smuggler, and Dr. Kobus ,a world renowned sports medicine doctor and physiologist.

Day 4

We dropped our laundry off at the local cleaners all of 126 ZAR to wash 7 kilo grams of clothes.

Today we visited an area called the Cradle of Human Kind. We visited two locations Sterkfontein Caves, and Maropeng visitor center / museum.

Both well worth the visit. At Sterkfontein Caves, you can take a tour of one of the best archeological caves in the world descending more the 60 meter below the surface of the earth.

Maropeng was a great museum giving a fantastic description and education of the evolution of man. The tours took most of the day. The next day, we were heading off for the Tour de Tuli, so we headed back to our apartment to pack up for our adventure.

Day 5 - Tour de Tuli

Roll call was at 4:00 AM, we finished packing loaded our gear into the van. We had loaded the bikes the day before. We were on the road by 4:20 AM. North on the M1 to the N1 North, meeting De Wet, Nicolaas, Steve, and Karl at 5:00 AM or I should have said 5:25 AM as we took the wrong exit and had to double back.

We had a 5 hour drive from Johannesburg to Halcyon Car Park. As we drove north, we picked up more teammates and their cars would just join the caravan. We stopped for a quick bite to eat reintroduced everybody. South African names are very hard to pronounce, making them even harder to remember.

We arrived at the car park around noon with our gear bags and bikes. These were the biggest gear bags I had ever seen. What a well organized system they had in place. Our gear bags went on a trailer and we went on our bikes.

It was a 20 kilometer ride from the car park to the start of the ride. The first 15 kilometers was on somewhat paved road and while riding we saw giraffes grazing on the side of the road. We then exited South Africa at the Point Drift border crossing, and we crossed the Limpopo River.

We were now in no man’s land. The Limpopo River was bone dry because this part of the world is experiencing extreme drought conditions. As we biked across the river or should I say the dry river bed, we got our first experience of what was in store for us, "SAND", lots of sand. Biking through sand is like biking the steepest hills, but you are on flat ground. One wrong move and you are off the bike and eating dirt, literally. Our whole team made it across unscathed. We rode up the east bank to the Botswana border crossing. Though the Limpopo River runs primarily from the West to the East emptying in the Indian Ocean, it is a very windy river, at this crossing the river flows north to south. Home sweet home! Actually this was an area of Botswana I had not been in. Once through immigrations, it should have been a 3 kilometer ride to our first nights camp. Nicolaas our team leader made a wrong turn and 10 kilometers later we arrived Limpopo Valley Camp.

What a system! 300 tents set up, our gear bags waiting to be claimed, all was good. We had 2 hours before our 4:30 team meeting. At the meeting everything was covered from logistics, safety, medical issues, dealing with the animals, etc.

We did find out there would be some awards handed out each day: “Training wheel award”, “Thorn-catcher award” and “Zebra award”, More on these later.

One exciting point for our team is we are the only team with our own photographer, Steve, our own bike mechanic, Karl, and our Doctor, Kobus. I hope we only use Steve's services.

Dinner and the reception were nice, with a presentation about the charity we are riding for, Children in the Wilderness. Now it is off to bed, for another 5:00 AM wake up.

Day 6 or Day 1 of the tour


The wake up call came at 4:45 AM, camp is 300 tents one for each rider. We are the second group to depart sometime between 6:05 AM and 6:15 AM depending on sunrise. The last team, team 18 departs at 8:30 AM. Even though they have a later departure they woke up at 4:45 AM in fact every rider woke at 4:45 AM.

Grant is on our team and in real life is a test pilot for a consortium based in South Africa. This consortium plans to build the first supersonic commercial aircraft since the SST. Grant felt if Grant is up everybody is up, so at 4:45 AM he blasted the smallest loudest stereo I ever saw. The stereo was so loud everybody woke. Thanks Grant!

We depart at 6:05 to a beautiful sunrise. Within the first kilometer, Nicolaas our team leader, got us lost, and we had to back track about 400 meters. This was to be repeat about 6 times throughout the day, the last being the worst. After 43 miles of extreme mountain biking, Nicolaas took us 3 kilometers past the finish point, over small un-ride-able boulders and then across sand only Karl could ride. This added about 30 minutes to the day.

What a day it was, the first 12 miles was extremely dirty and dusty and if you did not have your face covered you could not breathe. The ground was soft dirt, that would unexpectedly turn to sand that was close to impossible to ride. At some points, the sand would take riders (ME) down. We also crossed several dry river beds that had a surface similar to very coarse sand.

The Northern Tuli Game Reserve has been home to over 1,200 elephants from the late 1960’s; a time when these large pachyderms discovered this safe refuge from hunting and poaching. This Botswana reserve, one of the three international components of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA), has been committed to non-consumptive tourism from its inception and it is for this reason that the wildlife is habituated to vehicles…..not bicycles!!

Today, we cycled through three privately owned properties which comprise over 50% of the beautiful Northern Tuli Game Reserve namely Mashatu Game Reserve, Pitsani Game Reserve and finally Shalimpo at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. Today’s cycling is characterized almost exclusively by single track riding created by the large herds of elephant that reside in the reserve. The bliss of this cycling is that it has been created by the matriarchal herds, most of which have young elephant calves in their midst. The trails tend to meander around obstacles ensuring easier traversing for the elephant calves.

On leaving Limpopo Valley Airfield Camp on Mashatu, we headed northwest to tea. As we rounded the southern section of the airstrip, we hoped to find hundreds of helmeted guinea fowl on the open areas. Heading north, this is a wide single track with a gradual climb. Once we got to the sunrise look-out, we decended on some rocky single tracks. This trail leads to our first Mashatu tree and a narrow neck between two ridges. As we exited the neck, we got the most amazing scent of wild sage wafting in the air. We then swung west towards the tea spot. En route, we passed through many drainage lines which proved to be quite challenging (sandy), with steep entries and exits. In the ravine areas, we passed spectacular Mashatu trees and patches of wild sage.

At 12 miles, we had a quick tea break. Tea is situated on a point with a 360 degrees panoramic view of the area. We then dropped down to the north, swinging east towards the Shashe River mostly along game trails crossing dry river beds - game is plentiful in this area. This section is a fast flowing section between mopane trees - be aware of elephants. We passed through Jwala Fly Camp. As we started heading southeast, riding became faster and flowing with the odd climb – “Broke Back Ridge” - this is a category two climb for Mashatu! “Ridgeback Ridge” is just beyond this and gives you another great view. We cycled through denser drainage lines before we reach “Bryce's Store”.

After the tea break, the dust and dirt seemed to dissipate. We also saw warthogs, and giraffe. Most of the riding was windy single track. At one point Margarite was riding all out, when she passed a "Wait a bit tree". It looked like the branch of the tree just grabbed her handle bar and threw her to the ground, HARD!

What happened is this tree has thorns that latch on to things and they grabbed on to her handle bars and she went down. Only thing hurt, besides a severely strained hip was Margarite's pride.

At mile 30, we had a awesome brunch. I am not going to lose weight on this trip. The third and final leg at least that is what we thought was dusty again, a few miles from the Zimbabwe border. We encountered a pack of elephants and what a sight! We also saw some giraffe and in fact, 2 ran directly in front of Scrappy and Nicolaas.

From “Bryce's Store”, we followed the Pitsane and crossed the Pitsane at Frazer Jones’s Weir. We headed into undulating and flowing singlet track. The trail then goes past the well-known Moddergat area. This area has always been favored by elephants. From Moddergat, we headed into the back country. There was lots of mopane, ridges and a maze of single track. Once we saw the riverine forests lining the Shashe, we headed south east towards Shalimpo area. This is a new area we’ll explore. It was lush with lala palms, Mashatu trees and even some baobabs. There has been an increase in elephant populations in this area and although we have taken steps to avoid the Lala Palm Groves, caution needs to be taken. There are also rouge lions so we avoided blind shady areas as we cycled through. Interesting shards of pottery can be found here left behind by ancient inhabitants of the Shashe area.

Right after the elephant sightings, we saw a lion and in fact it started chasing us! You know the old mountain bike saying, "you do not need to bike faster than the lion, only faster than the other riders." I was not faster than the lion or the other riders. The lion jumped and got a piece of my back leg. Fortunately, De Wet had his bang gun and scared the lion off, but not before the lion took a chunk out of my shin. Dr Kobus did his wonders and stapled me back together. I guess having team uniforms that make us look like zebras is not the smartest thing to do.

Next we exited Botswana, not an issue. Entering Zimbabwe was an issue on 2 accounts. For one getting to the border, we had to cross where the Limpopo and Sashi Rivers meet, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe all meet here this is called the, "confluence". At this point the river is 2 miles wide. Two miles of very deep sand so everybody had to walk. The second issue was Scrappy. A few years back Scrappy flew a special mission for a company that violated Zimbabwe air space. This caused a long interrogation of Scrappy. Finally Nicolaas stepped in, some money changed hands and we were on our way.

We should have only been a few kilometers from camp at this point, but I already explained what happened. I am not sure if Nicolaas had the worst navigational skills, or if another team sabotaged his GPS.

Maramani Campsite was just perfect All our gear had been moved and our tents had been set up. As we dropped off our bikes, they were washed, waxed, and serviced.

The tents were all set up in the dry Limpopo river bed. On the far side Margarite and I noticed 6 elephants feeding on the trees-what a sight!

For the day we saw elephant, giraffe, warthog, impala, eland and a lot of lion, and hyena tracks, as well as the one lion that got a piece of me.

Team Awards -

“Training wheels of the day” – Margarite, our only female rider this year , was caught in a “Wait a bit thorn bush”. Her bike was stopped in it's tracks where the bush got a "hold" of it, Margarite kept going, this will make a great story to tell.

“Thorn-catcher of the day” – Kosie Combrink. Dr. Kobus had to remove a 2cm fever tree thorn from Kosie’s leg. Lots of TLC and 2 stitches later, he was ready to move on. DUG, also got a bad gash on his shin from the Lion attack and Dr. Kobus had to do 3 staples to get him on his way. Yeah for our Dr!!

“Zebra of the day” - Ryk Genis. Ryk was riding in a dry riverbed. On his way to the other side, his front wheel got stuck in rocks and sand and he literally flew over the handle bars – an OTB (Over The Bars) as we call it.

Food was great, time for bed another 4:45 AM wake up call tomorrow. Tomorrow is supposed to be a more difficult and long day.

Day 7 day 2 tour de Tuli.


The best way to describe today was the ride from hell. Which up until this point was my bike ride up Mt Ventoux.Today’s ride started at 6:00 AM or should I say the hike. The first 5 miles was either un-ride-able sand or un-ride-able rocks. Once we got done hiking our bikes through sand and rocks, things got better. We were actually biking. We came across a rocky decent, I hit a rock and my brakes at the same time and went head over heels (OTB). Nothing major broke on me or the bike. I had a bruised knee, and the bike was shifting funny, fall number one. Next came a sandy section rather than fight the sand I went in the trees, seemed like a good move until a "Wait a bit tree" got me, fall number two. Next on a small climb, I went to shift and the chain jammed between my cog and spokes. The entire team had to stop while Karl fixed my bike by breaking the chain and then rebuilding it with a flip tab from a soda can.

A few minutes later Margarite's chain snapped. Karl to the rescue another flip tab used.

Finally it was brunch. Some how I had gotten sand in my shorts and my butt was become raw very quickly (saddle sore). I dropped my draws and started apply saddle cream. While I got a lot of stares from the other riders, and locals, what is a boy with diaper rash to do?

After brunch, we stopped in a small village to patronize the local bar "spaza shop”. A spaza shop is an informal convenience shop business in Africa. They also serve the purpose of supplementing household income of the owners, selling everyday small household items. These shops grew as a result of sprawling townships that made travel to formal shopping places more difficult or expensive. We also visit with some of the kids from Children in the Wilderness.

We had about 15 miles left to ride. Nicolaas picked up the pace and it was a free for all across a great desert plain. I was following Karl or try to, as he crested a ridge, I followed not knowing the ground disappeared and Karl had made a 5 foot jump. I slammed on my rear brake not having the guts to jump and I fell over the 5 foot ridge. Fall number 3 luckily for me the ground was soft sand and I landed on my head.

From there, it was 2 miles of beach like sand, totally draining, but we were not done yet, The Tour de Tuli is about digging deep and that is what we all had to do. After the sand, we had a very cool section of single track through small palm trees.

Then it was back to hiking for the final 3 miles of sand and rocks to get back into camp.

Once showered and things were put away, we hung for a while rehydrating. We wanted to see if the elephants would show again (this was the same camp as the night before), instead we saw a troop of baboons, maybe 10 of them, playing on the far side of the river bank. All of a sudden hundreds started crossing the river from our side to the far bank. I can not describe how cool this was seeing a huge troop of baboons crossing the dry river bed.

After the baboon migration, Scrappy, Margarite, Steve and I climbed a hill to see the area from a better vantage point.

“Training wheels of the day” – DUG took a shortcut and fell down a ditch 4-5 ft deep. No serious injuries just some stiffness in the shoulders tonight.

“Thorn-catcher of the day” – No thorn injuries today

“Zebra of the day” – Andries du Toit. Andries decided to be a Super Zebra and tried to ride about 100m of sand in a dry river bed. Of course his Super Zebra powers did not last long. Sand is no rider’s friend.

Since we were staying at the same camp as the night before, we did not need to pack or unpack. After dinner it was early to bed as we do this all over again tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the infamous day 3. Day 3 is the longest and hardest day of the Tour de Tuli.

Day 8 or Day 3 of the tour


We departed at 6:10 AM this morning and got back to camp at 1:10 PM. We ended as the 2nd group. For a while we were riding first since group 1 had a lot of mechanicals.

Our group had a better day than what was expected. Nicolaas had set the expectations that today would be just awful, but after day 2 "The Ride from Hell", this ride was a walk in the park, especially since we did more walking than riding.

We left camp, through thick sand (not ride-able); and then rode over some smooth slick rocks onto sandy single track. From there, the heart rate picked up as we tackled a roller coaster of ups and downs through a series of technical rocky sections which lead onto some smooth sailing along single track. This allowed for a little recovery time. The trail took us across a boundary fence and back onto some technical sections. As we made our way through the rocky section, we started heading into sweet veld as the vegetation becomes dominated by acacia woodland. The trail became well defined as we got closer to the Sizi Spring – indicating heavy traffic flows of wildlife. Huge congregations of zebra, impala, eland and wildebeest often collect around the spring.

From there, we had some work to do as the riding is quite tough. The trail makes its way up a technical climb with soft and sandy sections thrown in the mix. After this, some challenging single track and jeep track offered little comfort, going through a small river crossing and passing a waterhole, stopping at Rock Camp for a tea break.

As we approached the Fly Camp, the roads became sandy and require some hard peddling. About one kilometer before we reached Fly camp, we tackled a steep technical climb up to the scenic camp. The view was spectacular and is really worth the climb and sandy riding. After taking in the scenic vistas and some fresh air, there was a tricky little decent that followed which got us leaning over the back wheel. Once the bottom is reached, in true MTB fashion, a sandy climb has to be tackled. Again the jeep track becomes sandy and going gets tough, but the scenery is fantastic. We arrived at the brunch stop.

After brunch, we cycled along single and jeep track, past some baobabs, over a rocky outcrop and past Bushmen paintings. The trail is very sandy in this section and required some hard riding and good momentum. As we approach the dam, the riding surface starts to firm up a little and there are a few ups and downs to make up for the sand. As we passed the dam, the trail turns left and continues on single track which has small sandy sections. The trail takes us across a main road and through a small river and straight into Kuduland – camp number three, and what a great spot to recuperate after a tough day of cycling.

We had 4 flat tires between the riders in our group. One of the flats came from Steve’s bike. An antelope horn got stuck in his tire and of course caused a major puncture. This was a first, a flat from an antelope horn.

We did not see many animals, though we saw lots of sand. I think the day was not as bad as we thought, since the expectations were set high and day 2 was so awful.

It looks like Grant is getting homesick, though I think he has the hots for Margarite. He brought her a bottle of top shelf liquor for the ride and every once in a while Grant gave her a little tap on the butt and say he was just swatting a bug off her butt.

Leon is now known as “King of the sand” with his new 29’er bike. Leon just floated across the sand.

Team awards for the day.

“Training wheels of the day” – Shaun Fraser. Shaun hit a river bank, his wheel got stuck and he had an OTB. He injured his shoulder slightly but is good to go for tomorrow. He had a biokinetics appointment today and that will help his shoulder for the ride tomorrow. Shaun now has a unique bike with bent saddle and wheel. I am sure Karl, our mechanic, will sort him out fast. Fortunately in real life Shaun is a stunt pilot. He is use to crashing, though usually from a plane and not a bike.

“Thorn-catcher of the day” – No thorn injuries today.

“Zebra of the day” – Danie Erasmus. Danie had several falls during the day but like a true tough rider, he came out stronger on the other side.

We will be spending the night in Kuduland Camp. Our tents are set up on the dry river bed of the Limpopo River. In this section of the river, it appeared to have a thin carpet of fur covering the sandy bottom. It was explained this fur is actually an algae that dries and forms this fur like substance as the river dries out.

In all the previous camps, our tents were front and center, making it very easy for us to access the main camp, such as the food, bar, and facilities. I am not sure if this was intentional or just by happenstance, but at this camp we were placed as far away from the main camp as possible.

Many in the group pulled out the sleeping pads and built a little hangout spot in the shade. It was a nice hanging out hearing old war stories, a little history / politics of the Zimbabwe government. One topic that came up was where Margarite and I would be traveling after the tour. I mentioned Victoria Falls and that we were staying at the Kingdom Hotel. That was the wrong thing to say. One comment I heard, "The Kingdom Hotel is a great place to stay if you do not mind fecal matter (shit) in your ice". Grant stepped in cozening up to Margarite and said," If it was me and I was taking you to Victoria Falls, I would have us stay at the Elephant Hills Hotel."

A little back story, the travel agent I used had insisted we stay at the Elephant Hills Hotel, I over ruled him and had him book the Kingdom Hotel as the Kingdom Hotel looked like a better location. Now, being told the hotel I had booked served shit in the ice was a little disconcerting. With no Internet or Phone service dealing with this problem was going to have to wait, plus I was going to have to eat some crow with Chris.

Day 9 or Day 4 of the tour


Team Amerifrikaners rode strong today after three days of hard riding. We did encounter more sand than what we had in mind, but dealt with it in stride...or at least that is our story and we are sticking to it.

We depart from Kuduland Camp and travel along single and jeep track to the Nottingham Fishing Camp. From here, we cycled though a very tough technical section called the “Spine breaker” and through the "Botanical Garden" (a beautiful section) before arriving at tea.

From tea, we cycled mainly on jeep track via the foot of a beautiful sandstone ridge. We came upon group 8 as they started just ahead of us today since they had some riders that had to catch flights home. One of their riders hit a rock and did an OTB. The Doc took a look and felt the rider broke three ribs, so we waited until the rescue copter showed up.

Brunch was at "Sandstone on Sentinel". After brunch, we entered the forest bordering the Limpopo River. Coming out of the forest, we passed the Bristow's farm and hugged the Limpopo River for what should have been a truly beautiful ride all the way to the crossing point.

Around 60km, we ended up following tracks from a group that made a wrong turn (at least that is what Nicolaas told us) and spent over an hour and a half hiking/traversing a small mountain to get to the Zimbabwe/South Africa border crossing.

Our unplanned mountaineering turned out to be quite an adventure with some great views of the Limpopo River and the South African border. To get down from the ridge, we formed a human conveyer belt and handed each bike down the steep raven one at a time

We finally crossed out of Zimbabwe and into South Africa at an informal border post on the Limpopo River. Once we crossed the river bed, we entered Mapungubwe and cycled approximately ten kilometers on the reserve roads up to the Mapungubwe Confluence. What a nasty steep concrete climb up to the end of the Tour De Tuli. After 4 days of hard mountain biking, we had to climb at about 10% grade for 3 kilometers to finish the ride.

No real mechanicals in our group, which always help to keep us going at a decent pace. I did have one rear tire blow out. A thorn punctured a 1/4 inch hole. Even Stan's sealant could not seal this hole. Karl to the rescue, he plugged the hole and had me riding again in less then a few minutes.

Today’s cycling offered a variety of terrain from mopane trees to open grasslands to thick forest and rocky outcrops.

Our winners of the tour awards are:

Shaun won the training wheel for his fantastic fall on day 3.

Margarite won the super Zebra for beating everybody up the last two hills riding into the final camp.

Tonight our final night will be at Mapungubwe Camp. Things got a little or should I say a lot crazy. South Africans have 2 livers and can drink more than any other group of humans. This ability to process the alcohol with both livers actually enhances the effect of the alcohol. There is a tradition the last night of the Tour de Tuli called table sliding. You strip down to your birthday suit and slid down 8 folding tables all lined up and covered in olive oil and dish washing soap.

Shaun and Grant were so excited they had completed (this was there first tour) the ride, they slid down the tables together, hand in hand.

Another tradition is zip-tying, a fellow teammates tent shut. Since Scrappy was the youngest on our team, he was nominated as the victim. The idea here is with all the drinking going on, when the person (Scrappy) wakes up, he is going to have to pee, but won't be able to get out of his tent.

It was now 6:30 AM in the morning with two livers, the Afrikaners do not get hangovers. Everybody was packing up, as well as keeping an eye on Scrappy's tent, there was no movement in the tent at all. To everybody's surprise at 7:00 Scrappy came walking up from another part of the camp. We all just looked and wondered what happened. Scrappy claims he found a cave and slept there as it was much quieter than camp. We all have other thoughts as to where he spent the night, but we will save that for another time. Poor Grant, he wasted zip ties on the wrong guy’s tent.

Once everybody was up and packed we said our goodbyes and all went on our own ways. It was only a few days ago we had met most of the team and now we felt we were leaving friends that will be friends for life.

Off to Safari.