Text: Jaco Myburgh
Photography: Jaco Myburgh
It all started with Xalamukani Day Care Centre’s graduation party. We were invited to attend by the sous-chef (assistant to the main chef, and second in command) in my kitchen at Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Eric Ubisi.
He had realised that more and more teenagers were leaving school to stay at home to care for their young siblings. Some parents were living away from home to earn a living, while some were just not around anymore. So Eric decided to open his own day-care facility for toddlers, to offer the teenagers the opportunity to go back to school, and stay out of trouble.
This was all done with very limited resources and the help of the local community. Looking after these toddlers was one thing, but giving them a balanced meal on a daily basis, with no government support? that was another story altogether.
I just had to help Eric.
So it happened that Jessica Boon, my friend and a game ranger at Londolozi, and I put our heads together and came up with the idea, “Ride to break the cycle of hunger”, or RTBTCOH.
We wanted to cycle from Sabie Sands in Mpumalanga to Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique, raising funds and creating awareness of Eric’s school as we went along.
We tried to get sponsors for the trip, but most of the people we approached just laughed and said that it was impossible to cycle to Ponta. We then decided that we would pay our own way and finish the trip, come hell or high water.
We figured that we would at least create awareness about Eric’s predicament and hopefully gain credibility for when we did it again. Then no-one would have a reason not to sponsor us. And so our seemingly “hopeless” attempt to reach Ponto progressed from an idea to an adventure.
Day 1: Sabie Sands to White River
After extensive planning and no training, Jessica and I left Shaw’s Gate at Sabie Sands Game Reserve at about 5am. After 3km of riding Jess noticed fresh lion tracks on the dirt road in front of us. Although she is a game ranger, I was only convinced of the tracks once I stopped and saw the actual paw prints myself. Great, I thought. Lion tracks outside the reserve! And we were on bicycles.
After a few nervous minutes convincing Jessica not to track down the escaped lion herself and to rather phone her colleagues and let the other game rangers (who use 4x4s and carry guns!) sort it out, we were on our way again.
Heading for White River, I had the first of many crashes. Good thing the barrier next to the road came off second best – or so it seemed. Actually, a car had gone through the same barrier the day before!
The road between Hazyview and White River was absolute hell. We had no back-up vehicles and had to carry all our equipment — tents, sleeping bags, spares, tools, you name it. Each bike weighed in at an extra 20kg, making the hills even more murderous than the lion that could have been stalking us.
Day 2: White River to Malelane
After two pizzas, 12 cold drinks and a good night’s sleep, we geared up the next morning and headed for Malelane. This was an easy day. In fact, it was ridiculously easy compared to the 900m climb over 30km the previous day.
We got to Malelane early and quickly munched a packet of slap chips and a half loaf of bread outside the Spar supermarket, on the pavement. People were looking at us as if we were nuts. We then started looking for a place to sleep for the night.
We had to travel another 5km through cane fields to get to our destination, but it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. After some more food, the fitting of bicycle mirrors and some maintenance on the bikes, we hit the sack.
Day 3: Malelane to Komatipoort
Another easy day. The scenery was amazing. I don’t think that anyone can appreciate it until they have cycled or walked there. You tend to miss a lot while driving in a car, flying along at 120km/h. On a slow ride you see everything — birds, small waterfalls, squirrels and people.
You actually get to have a conversation with Jabu the cyclist on his way to work or Isaac the fruit vendor on the side of the road. Everyone was super-friendly and very interested in our journey.
In Komatipoort we had lunch at the Lion and Leopard restaurant while planning the next day’s action — a 96km ride to Boane in Mozambique, and we still had to get through the border.
Day 4: Komatipoort to Boane
Going through the border on a packed bicycle is much easier than in a car. No papers. Just a quick stamp and off you go. We stopped to buy some airtime for our Mozambique MCell sim cards and then hit the pedals for Boane.
We were on fire that day and completed the entire 96km in seven hours, getting to our destination in time for 12 beers, and Mozambican peri-peri chicken with pap and salad – which only set us back R120. I’m a chef and I know food. And can these ladies cook!
We eventually realised there were no facilities or lodgings where we could stay overnight, so we organised a spot on the floor in the waitress’s room at the back of the restaurant. She was a great hostess and was genuinely concerned for our safety. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Ever.