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South Africa 

DAY 54

Feb. 23, 2000

Mbabane, Swaziland to Nsoko  

Hello! Guess what we found when we awoke this morning! More rain! Again we lined up and ate in the rain. But by now some folks had had enough. They were getting out of there one way or another. Even Steve, my riding buddy of the day before was going to go and Biker Al too was leaving. People were piling over each other to get into the Timbali Caravan Park’s office to make inquiries and arrangements. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Sure it was raining but we all had rain gear, it was warm enough, and this day’s terrain was to be a lot easier than yesterday’s. Besides I reasoned, it is going to be  raining here and there all year, what are we going to do, get on a bus every time it rains?

So I set out, alone this time because I hadn’t made plans to ride with anyone and couldn’t see anyone else ready to go. The first hour or so was the worst, after that we seemed to be riding away from the rain. I had no trouble during that hour, but there were accidents. In Swaziland they have rotary crossings where streets meet and at those things everyone drives round and round in circles waiting for an opportunity to break free and dart off onto a side road. There don’t seem to be any particular rules and there are no lanes marked on the pavement, it is like bumper cars really. I approached the rotary at the 22.4 km. mark on our DRG with some trepidation as I have always hated those things and I wasn’t sure what ‘straight more or less’ would look like. This is what the guide says: ‘22.4 STRAIGHT (more or less) onto MR 3 toward Manzini and the airport at rotary. Full services.’ So I am focused, really focused as the traffic is heavy and the rotary is scary. Just as I started into it I noticed Shirley, one of our riders, lying flat on her back on the bare ground. Several other riders were there and the police too. I decided that there was nothing I could do there that wasn’t being done although it crossed my mind that Shirley might be cold and I did have that emergency foil blanket in my bike bag. She hadn’t looked like anything was wrong with her though so I continued into the rotary and found to my great relief that a patrolman was there directing traffic. He stopped the cars until I had exited the rotary and was safely on my way. Later I learned that a pick-up truck driving past Shirley on the rotary had come so close to her that the truck’s mirror had hit her in the back and knocked to the ground. She had a bruise on her back  but no other injuries. She was soon riding again. Bobbi is another rider who had an accident during that first hour as well. She was going downhill and she may have been going fast because that is the way she likes to do downhills, when a vehicle passed her on the right and then turned left immediately in front of her without warning and as if she wasn’t there. She tried to avoid hitting him by turning alongside of him but hit his fender or bumper and crashed into his windshield. She then bounced off the truck and landed on the street. Another rider was there witnessing the accident and it was from him that Bobbi learned the whole story because the last thing she remembered  was heading for that windshield. Miraculously, she was not hurt, not a scratch anywhere. She had a sore shoulder and maybe a concussion. She sagged for only a day or two until her bike was repaired and then she got a new helmet and was back on her bike. Her bike needed only a new front fork and a front wheel.

The countryside in Swaziland is just as beautiful as in South Africa and they seem to raise the same crops, sugar cane, corn, trees, pineapples and other fruit. The people for the most part have been friendly. Most look healthy and well fed although clearly some are very poor. The children wear school uniforms and walk long distances to and from school. The men may have more than one wife.

Our campsite that night at Nisela Safaris was as soggy as could be but it was a special place. I was amazed to find an ostrich walking about among the tents. It was completely comfortable with people. A wild ostrich, it had walked in one day and had refused to leave. The safari people had tried releasing it far away but it found its way back. Although I saw it as an attraction they found it to be a nuisance as it messed the walks and even people who passed too closely at the wrong moment. Those folks also kept a young warthog and a lion cub that they had hand raised. The warthog didn’t really want to be bothered by people but the cub loved to play. It played ‘tackle and chew’. I can now claim that I have been bitten by a lion! It’s only a small scratch and may not even leave a scar but I hope it does. The lion cub also amused itself by chasing the warthog. The cub is 5 months old now and will soon be taken to a rehabilitation center where they will teach it to survive and eventually release it.

That evening we were treated to a typical Swazi meal, a speech by the Minister of Tourism, and Swazi dancing and music. It was still raining but we were under a shelter and had tables and chairs. The cooks had built a big fire and cooked our food in enormous black pots. The pots could only be moved by two men holding an end of a stick suspending the pot from the handle. They cooked pasta, rice, stew, potatoes, vegetables and mush that way.

Goodbye! Alice  

DAY 55

Feb. 23, 2000

Nsoko, Swaziland to Hluhluwe, South Africa  

Hello! It was still raining. But I didn’t care. I wouldn’t have missed playing with the lion cub for anything. I hung around the camp as long as I could to play but finally had to leave.

At 40 easy kilometers down the road we crossed the border into South Africa, again in the pouring rain. It was a 147 km. day but because of both bad luck and good luck I arrived at the campsite before dark.

In the middle of the morning going up a hill my chain jammed, chain suck it is called, and I nearly fell before I could get my foot out. Having my foot stuck reminded me that I need to keep the cleat part of the pedals cleaned and oiled. A passing motorist noticed me working to get the chain back on and stopped to offer me a lift. I almost turned him down, but then thought why not? If he could take me to the checkpoint I might have a hope of finishing at a reasonable time. He was a very interesting man, born and raised there, and he told me about his children and hobbies. He took me the 30 km. remaining to the checkpoint and there I had another pleasant surprise, a free lunch furnished by the people with a restaurant and supermarket there. That was a first. I ate as much as I could, doing my part to make sure they didn’t have to deal with leftovers, and then got on my way. Actually they must have had at least 100 less for lunch than expected because 73 people had boarded a chartered bus the morning before at the Timbali Caravan Park and headed for Durban where they then waited 3 days for the rest of us. Other people had rented private vehicles and gone on a variety of sightseeing trips.

Because of my lift I had arrived at the checkpoint way earlier than usual and saw riders there that I normally never get to see on the road as they are always ahead of me.

We camped at Malala Lodge, a place described as ‘super’ on the DRG but now it wasn’t super, it was super soggy. There was no way to avoid sloshing through water. Even the tables and chairs under the dining pavilion were standing in water. I pitched my tent and rolled out my air mattress. My sleeping bag stayed tucked away in its plastic bags for by now I wasn’t using it any longer. The nights were too warm for it and I didn’t want to risk getting it wet if heaven forbid the tent should leak. All of my cycling clothes were now both wet and dirty. I have only 4 changes and we had ridden 4 days in rain with no opportunity to wash and dry clothes. I washed one set of clothes so they might be wet but at least they would be clean. I sloshed to the dining pavilion and hung my wet clothes over the plastic chairs there, but that was a wasted effort. In the morning they were still sopping wet and I had to put them on that way. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected it to be and I didn’t get cold because we are in South Africa in the summer where it would normally be very hot, but because of the rain is nice and warm. That was the day I gave up the idea of wearing rain clothes. I started wet and stayed wet all day, cycling in the warm downpour and enjoying it as if I were a kid again.  

But back to Malala Lodge. These folks had worked to prepare a nice dinner but we had to slog through standing water to get to it. They had even decorated the serving area with candles in paper bags, maybe more out of necessity than anything, because the lodge had been struck by lightning and had no electricity. There were 3 or 4 tables with a candle on them but I sat at a dark table as did most of the other folks. We were grateful to be able to sit at a table to eat with a roof over our heads, even if it was dark and our feet were in water. 

Dessert and coffee were available in the gift shop so I made my way there. People were eating and shopping by  candlelight and others were just standing about glad to have their feet on a dry floor and to be out of the rain. The shop owner had prepared for our arrival by bringing in a supply of large cardboard cartons, offering to package and ship the items purchased. There were beautiful handmade baskets of all sizes and soon every one of them was snapped up. People were enjoying this cozy little shopping spree in the dark. I chose a few postcards but I had to take them to a candle to see what I had.

Goodbye! Alice





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