K., Kathy – Cycling The Drakensberg and Kruger

November 22, 2016 | Lois Farley

I went cycling in South Africa with two friends for two weeks.  We joined an Exodus cycling tour of 14, mainly English with a couple of Australians.  http://www.exodustravels.com/ca/south-africa-holidays/cycling/cycling-drakensberg-kruger/mzd-85656?setcountry=CA  We had a support van with a driver and a guide who also prepared most of our food.  We cycled in the North East corner of South Africa, near the border of Mozambique and Swaziland.  The cycling was in rural areas, and initially at an altitude of 2000 metres, which kept us cool, though winded from our lack of altitude training (or maybe, just lack of sufficient training, altitude or not, ok.).  What I was not expecting were the long climbs of 5, 6, 7 kilometres, though I certainly welcomed the descents thereafter!  While cycling, we saw zebras, giraffes, baboons, impalas,springbok, and kudus.   Some days at the lower altitudes it got hot, really, really hot.  On the hottest day I put my bike on the trailer and escaped into the comfort of the air conditioned van.  Several of the hills and the heat put me into the van on occasion.  We cycled between 45 and 75 km per day.

There is not much cycling in South Africa, so we were regarded rather strangely by most.  The kids were always the greatest, urging us to go faster and stronger (ok, sometimes, that was not great when I thought I was going at a really good speed.)   All the school kids are dressed in impeccable white shirts and dark pants/skirts for their school uniforms, notwithstanding their housing conditions.  The South African rand has fallen even more than the Canadian dollar, so we were able to eat and drink quite cheaply, and the excellent South African wines were ridiculously cheap and fine.

We stayed in lodges, which are hotels outside of the town.  Usually we had our own little huts.  A few times the huts were round in shape, with thatched roofs, in the typical African style.  Always with electricity and fans, sometimes with air conditioning.  The gardens were beautiful and lovely to relax in after cycling.  In the safari, we stayed in a permanent tent – with electricity and a fridge and beds, so we were certainly not roughing it in the bush!  In the safari, we were protected by a perimeter of electrified fences.

We enjoyed a break from the bikes in the middle of the trip and went on a two day safari in Kruger National Game Reserve.  We  were required to stay in the vehicle, and enjoyed looking at the animals.   Kruger is big at 20,000 square kilometres, so we only saw a little section of the park.  We were lucky to spot the so-called Big Five (elephants, rhinoceros, water buffalo, lion, and leopard).  A highlight was coming across two lions who were basking in the sun by a river, having just killed and eaten a water buffalo.  The lions gorge themselves and do not eat for a few days afterwards.  Meanwhile five crocodiles had dragged the remains of the water buffalo into the river to safeguard it from other animals and were devouring the water buffalo with their powerful jaws and sharp teeth.  Meanwhile a hippo was munching grass in the background and another water buffalo walked right by the crocodiles knowing it was safe as its kin was being devoured.

At Kruger we also saw giraffes – so graceful with beautiful spotted coats and the most gorgeous long eyelashes.  We saw hyenas (ugly and they stink), a very rare pack of wild dogs (even uglier and smellier than the hyenas), warthogs (ok, even uglier than all animals), a raft of hippopotamus, a troop of baboons, kudus (like deer but with stripes and spiralling long antlers), impalas, cats like leopards, several herds of elephants, including babies (way too cute), mongoose, monkeys, and lots more.   Loads of birds, including vultures.  Wish I had seen the Battle at Kruger, immortalized on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM

After our cycling trip we also enjoyed a few days in Johannesburg, where we explored the township of Soweto.  We saw the house of Nelson Mandela when when he was a lawyer and political activist (at 500 square feet) and saw his home after he was president, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and wrote a number one bestseller (at 5,000 square feet).   We visited the sites of anti apartheid uprisings, the Constitutional Court, and the Apartheid Museum (the immorality and perversity of apartheid was striking).  The country has come so very very far in the 20 years since the end of apartheid, there is increased diversity at all levels of society, though it will take generations to undo all the many harms of apartheid.   We  also went to a Cheetah reserve, where we got to pat a cheetah, and watch the cheetahs, various cats, and wild dogs be fed.