Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 5 - plenty plenty hassle-free Africa

As we headed out from Matimatima, Matt proposed a theory on why the Swazi Nation had managed to maintain its relative independence during historical times when the rest of Africa was colonised.

"Its because white men couldn't deal with these frigging hills," he said, face red and sweat dripping.

Indeed despite being on bicycles we had not done much better than 10km/h the previous day as the tracks had gone up and down hills consistently. Today looked like it was going to be another of those days and Matt was really feeling the previous day in his legs. Lavumisa was a very long distance away.

We passed Makhosini, the sacred burial place of the Dlamini Royal family. Burial traditions are still maintained today in Swaziland as they have been for hundreds of years in the past.

Our route south was tricky. Not many tracks were going in the direction we wanted to and the actual border fenceline itself was impossible to cycle. Lavumisa border was at least 10km away, possibly further depending on route choice, plus we needed to visit Salitjie a small border post just west of there.

We had started to formulate a list of criteria for circum-navigation. Staying on the border fence was physically impossible and a bit boring as there are no people to meet and little of interest other than the threat posed by alien vegetation on anything that resembled a path.

The border of Swaziland is 550km, so provided the routes choosen added up to at least this we would be happy that we had done the distance. The second criterion was that we would visit every border post. There are 13 of these scattered around the country's perimeter.

At one point we found ourselves back on the main tarred Nhlangano-Lavumisa. This helped us to gain a few kilometres but we were loosing contact with the border. We started asking every person we saw for options to lead us off-the-beaten-track again.

At last we came across a brilliant option and veered off right at Zamphilo. Matt's aches and pains were soon forgotten as we plummetted off the escarpment down into the lowveld on a 13km dirt downhill track. It just doesn't get better than that.

Salitjie border was hot and dry and the friendly police woman at the arrival desk was apologetic about their brackish water.

"Its salty" she said. At that point in the day as long as it was wet, that was all we were worried about.

A clever choice saw us pick up a lovely 20km zig-zagging route that linked us back to the tar road for the final 22km push down to Lavumisa.

We did most of the way with a rasta dude on a MTB who set the pace. Further on we raided yet another roadside store, where Gcinile agreed to pose with the boys.

Innocent, friendly, naive, dressed to kill in a short skirt and tight top - it was almost tragic to think that those very attributes might well see her adding to the already staggering HIV infection rate in Swaziland. How could one tell her to stop being so damn friendly - just be a bitch. girl. Just stay away from men. Fullstop.

Cresting the final hill above Lavumisa, we suddenly saw the town bathed in late afternoon sunlight, the blue waters of the Jozini Dam stretching out behind it and the towering Lubombo Mountains beyond.

"Daddy, I can see the sea," said Matthew enthusiastically, echo'ing perfectly the feeling of elation we all had at seeing the end of a 12-hour day in the saddle nearing.

After a courtesy call to the borderpost, our last mission of the day was to drop in at the Royal Jozini Big 6 game reserve gate at to get permission to traverse their property the following morning. This wasn't forthcoming, so we elected to circum-navigate it as well.

Which is probably a good junction for me to elaborate a little bit about our concept of hassle-free Africa. Hassle-free doesn't involve applying for permission 3 months in advance. It doesn't involve applications filled in in triplicate. It doesn't involve political manouvring, name-dropping or threats to achieve success.

Finding hassle-free Africa is about dis-spelling the myth that Africa is dangerous, that Africa is corrupt, that Africa is a basket-case where nothing works.

Our modus operandi is to travel freely, with little or no advance planning. To rely on local people for advice and assistance and to connect with as many people as possible in an open, honest and friendly manner. Anything is possible, and if it wasn't why would we be attempting a journey of this nature in the first place.

Having altered our route we headed for Nisela Safaris another private game reserve up against the Lubombo Mountains. I called the manager, no answer, left a voicemail, sent an SMS. We wondering now whether wildlife reserves were not going to be a real hurdle on our expedition. To the contrary: we got an SMS back 2 hours later "Sorry I'm away in Johannesburg. No problem at all. Enjoy." That is hassle-free Africa.

Day's Highlights:

All the directions, help and encouragement from 50 or more people that we chatted to during the day. Swaziland has got friendly people - fullstop.

Climbing Mhlosheni hill (mountain!) and then getting a long downhill on the othersides.

The two Swazi gents near St Juliana's school who told us about a "nice short-cut" to Salitjie Border Post that wasn't on the map. Understatement...13km of wicked downhill along smooth dirt tracks isn't "nice"... its MTB heaven.

Technical data:

120km, moving average 14km/h, overall average 10km/h. Max speed 78.5km/h.


  1. 2 thoughts at this point...
    - xtreme deja vu in hearing about Swaziland not being flat
    - yes, Africa has problems, and big ones at that, but also a human side. and that heart can sometimes be bigger.

  2. Superb updates Darron. You and Johan are going to be skinny guys after this trip!. I know you've had it on the cards for years so I'm delighted to read of your progress. Safe journey and I look forward to catching up on my return in early Sept. Lisa