Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 4 - Up and down and up and down

We were glad to get off our feet on Day 4. We had wanted to use the first 3 days to toughen our feet and generally get fit, having had no time to train at all beforehand. Whether we'd achieved that or just done damage was yet to be seen.

My feet in particular were a sorry sight. Having squeezed wide feet into a narrow shoe my little toe on each foot had been turned into one big watery blister, covering almost 70% of the toe surface. On top of that my feet had swelled at least a size bigger, so getting them back into my Salomon AR shoes almost mission impossible.

Johan's feet seemed better, but he was struggled with his naurally short Archilles tendons which had knock-on effects on other muscles.

The only downside of now being on bicycles was the size the packs we had. Not having panniers on our bikes, we everything on our backs: sleeping bags, mattrasses, food, bicycle spares, clothing, cameras and about 4 litres of water each. I could feel the weight forcing me down onto the saddle. No doubt the pain was about to be shifted.

After farewell's to Emmanuel and Karen at Sicunusa we headed off towards Gege. The kilometres flew by and we were in great spirirts. Whilst for the past few days we had grown used to seeing mountains get closer in a frustrating slow manner, now it was new views every hour. That said, Swaziland is not flat and a lot of time was spent grinding up narrow tracks in "granny gear".

It was however a predominantly downhill day. Sicunusa sits at an altitude of 1120m. Gege borderpost took some effort to reach at 1280m, but from the escarpment south of here the fun really started. We dropped down rapidly through the remote community of Dudusini to the Mkhondvo River at 990m.

The Mkhondvo River is another tributary of the Great Usutu River passing through the scenic Grand Valley before its meeting of the Usutu near Sidvokodvo. Just east of us we we were looking at Mahamba Gorge, one of Swaziland's well-known geographic features, from the upstream side. The river disappears into a gorge with 300m high cliffs on either side. Although hardly a kilometre long, the gorge is so narrow that at points the only way to pass through is to swim.

On the opposite side of the gorge only a hearty echo away stands Mahamba Gorge Lodge, another community owned tourism development funded by the European Union. Its very neat self-catering cottages, hot showers and fat mattrasses were drawing our thoughts that way, but we needed to burn some more kilometres and the effort of trying to swim through the gorge with bicycles and 15kg packs is something that would only make sense (sort of) in the Swazi Xtreme. (the Swazi Xtreme is Swziland's annual adventure race and renowned for enticing participants to do extreme physical feats that normally sane people would never otherwise contemplate).

Our route south to Mahamba border gate was a touch of unorthodox but navigational brillance. The less said about it in writing the better, but if you ever catch any of us around a fire we'll tell you and tale of risk and reward, and of lady luck dressed in paramilitary blue pants.

Mahamba is named after the fact that some people fled this way after falling out with the local chief or Indvuna. I think it was a group of early Christian converts. Mahamba is still the site of the oldest church in Swaziland, a quaint building that is passed en route to Mahamba Gorge Lodge.
After a quick rice and chicken at a caravan in the border parking (unbeatable value for R13.00) we headed on in the direction of Makhosini.

As the sun set, we found ourselves opposite Matimatima Police Post at Mahlandle RDA (Rural Development). We asked for a place to camp and were told to feel free. We commandeered a derelict RDA building and soon had a fire going.

Later that night whilst preapring to bunk down on the cold concrete floor, i wished we had something to put underneath or thin hiking mattrasses. Bingo! Standing behind the door was a roll of emacansi, traditional swazi sleeping mats. Talk about luck. We had a comfortable night.


Top speed of 65km/h on some narrow single track
Mahamba Gorge mis-navigational success

Daily stats
66km covered
moving average 11.6km/h
overall average 8.6km/h

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