Cycling in Mashatu August 2015
In November 2014 one of our mountain biking buddies, Don Hunter invited some friends to join him in celebrating a significant birthday by cycling in Mashatu during August 2015. Don organized the trip through Cycle Mashatu who were superb, but first things first.
The invite from Don read as follows: “You are hereby cordially invited to my birthday party on Saturday night the 22nd August to be held wherever we happen to be in the wilderness of Botswana. To make sure that you all make it, there is going to be a luxury coach laid on to take you most of the way and bring you back home again. Unfortunately there will be some cycling involved, under your own steam, to get all the way there, but that is your own affair.”
As always, there were a few rules, 22 to be precise but no 13 was the one I think that made our trip so successful and so special. It went like this: “The following will not be tolerated: whining, complaining, grumping, sulking, glaring, huffing, puffing, fighting, spitting, hitting, hair pulling, causing bodily harm, tantrums, feet stamping, wailing, shrieking, teeth gnashing or head banging. You are required to play nicely with each other.” And that is how it was.
On 19 August 2015, at 21:00 our luxury bus with 22 party revelers on board with their mountain bikes, kit and passports pulled out of the La Lucia Mall parking lot and headed to Mapungubwe Game Reserve in Limpopo where we spent our first night
Here are a few photos of Mapungubwe which include our very comfortable chalet, the view from our chalet and from the view site looking over the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. In Mapungubwe amongst other animals we saw elephant, zebra and klip springer and some magnificent birdlife
On the morning of 21 August 2015 our luxury bus took us to the Pont Drift border post where we met Claire, our host from Cycle Mashatu, assembled our bikes, went through customs and crossed a very dry Limpopo River once described by Rudyard Kipling in the Elephants Child as, “the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees”, and into Botswana
After going through customs we were taken by our host, Claire, a qualified game ranger, to meet our guides, Joe and Max, also qualified game rangers with immense knowledge of the bush, wildlife and bird life, have lunch and a briefing of what the next four days were going to be all about.
After our briefing we were split into two groups for the 25 kilometer cycle to Mashatu Camp on the Botswana bank of the mighty Limpopo River. It was a quiet ride with a few sightings of zebra, elephant, black backed jackal and some beautiful bird life
The first day’s riding started out beautifully with the first group following Joe and the second group behind Max with Claire doing the sweeping should anyone of us fall behind or decide to wander off on our own into the Mopani forest. It was all going well, some great sightings of elephant, zebra, impala, black backed jackal, giraffe, wildebeest(gnu), hyena and baboon coupled with some beautiful birdlife – khori bustards and lilac breasted rollers to name a few, Joe also pointed out leopard spoor quite close to the camp. Then it all happened, we were cruising through a rather rocky patch of single track when Nigel decided it was time to have a proper wipe out, didn’t quite get the corner right with a not so spectacular result and a buckled front wheel and a few roasties for his efforts. He was duly rewarded with the monkey but yours truly was to be recipient of the self same monkey when he did a not so elegant dismount in a pile of elephant dung a day later
Day 2 was epic. It started out gently enough and as we rounded a corner we were greeted by congress of baboons and a herd of impala running around madly. Suddenly they all scattered except for one impala which suddenly dropped. Joe, our guide, went to inspect the stricken animal to find it had been caught in a snare. We all gathered around while Joe removed the snare and Mark suggested pumping its heart and in a matter of two or three minutes of Joe pumping the impala kicked out, got up and bolted into the undergrowth. Joe, you are a legend
After the impala was rescued we continued on our way and were riding through some dense Mopani forest when Joe signaled to turn back and fast, we were about to cross paths with a rather unhappy jumbo
Jumbos seemed to be the order of the day, we had some great sightings and a rather hairy few minutes in our camp after the ride. We were all relaxing with a cold one, Mark had gone for a shower when one of the group called us to the have a look at large bull elephant who had wandered near the kitchen. It all looked pretty harmless, most of us got our cameras and were taking photos, then he started getting closer, despite the kitchen staff’s best efforts to send him on his way by banging on lids. About this time Mark finished his shower and started back towards the safety and camaraderie of camp, we shouted for him to stay in the shower but he heard “Change showers” and ran barefoot through the thorns for the “safety” of the other shower. Suddenly the elephant saw Mark and decided to take an interest in him and Joe, who had earlier received legendary status enhanced his reputation even further when he came to rescue again and a rather disgruntled elephant lumbered off into the bushes while Mark full of thorns scuttled back into the camp.
Then it was party time. We all enjoyed a few sundowners around the fire listening to three great speeches by Dave Bristow, Don’s best mate of 53 years, Don’s wife Shirley and Don himself before getting stuck into a magnificent dinner prepared by the appropriately named Baker, Sadie and the kitchen crew. They had also secretly made two delicious chocolate cakes.
Day three dawned bright and beautiful and after a hearty breakfast headed off into the bush toward Mmamagwe We saw a lot of game on the ride including a giraffe which had just given birth, unfortunately we did not get to see the baby.
At Mmamagwe we were given a wonderful history lesson from Joe about the ancient civilisations that had lived in the area and the fact that you can still find artefacts from those bygone eras and then Piet and Dave gave us a great overview of the geology of the area.
From Mmamagwe we rode to the camp where we would spend our last night to find we would be sleeping in a boma under the stars – awesome. Baker and Sadie prepared a magnificent dinner which included two whole fillets braaied – barbecued – on the open coals.
After some great fireside conversation it was time to climb into our sleeping bags and enjoy a good kip under the stars. During the night we were woken several times by lions calling, hyenas laughing and baboons foraging. Over breakfast our guides said the lions were probably 500 metres to a kilometre away so there was no need to feel concerned.
After breakfast it was time to head to the border post and say farewell to our wonderful hosts. On the ride Joe pointed out the lion tracks which were about a kilometre from the boma and near the border post we had a had a great sighting of a large herd of elephant with their young close to the road.
Back in South Africa our luxury bus was there to meet us and take us back to Mapungubwe for the night before the drive back to Durban. Around the fire it was said more than once how awesome our cycle trip was and that we’d all do it again soon.