Welcome to The Big Africa Cycle website. My name is Peter Gostelow and in August 2009 I left England to cycle to Cape Town. Almost 3 years later, having cycled more than 34,000km through 30 countries, I finally finished.
This was my second major solo bicycle adventure. Between 2005-2008 I cycled from Japan-England, a journey of 50,000km.
The blog posts in this website tell some of the stories from my time on the road. I returned to Africa in May 2013 and am living in Mwanza, Tanzania, working as a teacher trainer. If you’re headed out here for a holiday, or are travelling through by bicycle or backpack, please get in touch.
Although the cycling aspect of this journey is over, I will provide content in the months ahead, with blog posts and updates to some of the other pages on the site. If you’re a regular reader, or even if you’ve just stumbled upon the site now, please consider receiving future updates to the website by entering your e-mail address here.
Six Weeks in Southern Africa: Part 2
August 12th, 2014 (0 comments)
The steep descent down the Sani Pass provides some of the most stunning natural scenery on the continent. Fortunately the skies were clear when I began the descent on Christmas Day morning, with plenty of waterfalls, wild flowers and mountain streams along the way.
Very happy to be going downhill! Some sections of the descent have gradients of 20%.
Back into South Africa. No wild camping here! A lot of South Africa’s land is fenced off to prevent unwanted intruders.
‘You will be more comfortable down there at the Farmers’ Club’, were the words said to me by a Petrol Station attendant as I sought permission for a place to pitch the tent for the night. ‘Your people are down there’, he went on, pointing me in the direction of the setting sun. And so I rolled up to a very quiet Ermelo Farmers Club, met the white-skinned caretaker (one of my people) who kindly let me pitch my tent above the Cricket pitch. Durban was 70km away and the coastal heat and abundant greenery meant mosquitoes were out in force!
Durban beach front with a sand sculpture of Nelson Mandela who passed away a few weeks before. It was December 29th and the place was heaving. Unfortunately there was no other way to leave the city than cycle north on a very busy highway.
The plan had been to camp in the small coastal town of Ballito, but all campsites were full and despite my pleas to pitch-up behind the shower block, the owner turned me away in the dark. A complete asshole. I cycled 6km to a Police Station, assuming I could camp there, only to be turned away again (first time ever at a Police station). At about 10pm I ended up on the side of the main road hoping no-one would see me. I only enjoy wild camping when I feel safe. Here I didn’t. At 5.30am I was packed up after a quiet night and soon back on the road thinking that South Africa wasn’t the best place to be cycling at this time of year.
The coastal roads were too busy and full of drunk drivers so I turned inland and headed into the hills of KwaZulu Natal. It was a good decision to make, although the heat and humidity made the climbing a real sweat.
A much better spot to wild camp. Kwazulu Natal was refreshingly free of fenced roadsides demarcating private property. For several days I rarely saw a white face as I pushed north through Zululand, pitching the tent one night between the towns of Melmouth and Ulundi.
Perhaps it was the time of the year, but I came to the conclusion that South Africa has a drinking problem. This extends to the road, where smashed beer bottles and empty cans filled the hard-shoulder. It rarely made for a relaxed ride knowing that a drunk was driving almost every vehicle that went by. I wasn’t sure if this is what the sign here was warning against? If you are drunk you shouldn’t walk because you are more likely to get hit by someone driving who is also drunk. Would you be better getting drunk and then climbing into a vehicle driven by a drunk driver?
It was a very pleasant discovery to find that my favourite soft drink in Tanzania is very much available in South Africa. Only by cycling for hours in 35C heat would I consider drinking 1.1 litre of Ginger beer in one go. Blissful!
After a week or so back in South Africa over Christmas and New Year I happily crossed into Swaziland, famous as much as anything else for King Mswati III, who has something like 50 wives. No wonder he looks so happy on the banks notes!
All of Swaziland felt quiet and rural. I wished the country were bigger and that I had arrived earlier.
On my first morning in Swaziland I spotted three fresh snake roadkills. This one here a Mozambican spitting cobra. I’ve lost count of how many dead snakes I’ve seen in Africa. Live ones are much harder to spot.
Entrance to Hlane National Park. It’s always nervously exciting to cycle through a National Park in Africa. Most of them you can’t. The optimist in me assumes that if Lions, Elephants and other wild animals were a real threat then cyclists wouldn’t be allowed to cycle through the park. I’m not sure applying such logic in Africa is all that sensible….
Swaziland has one of Africa’s highest recorded rates of HIV. Many bus stations are painted with educational murals such as these.
Swaziland’s national beer. I think Lesotho’s Maluti edged this one out, but I was still very happy to find it being sold in 660ml bottles.
Back into South Africa I decided to use the N7 highway to lead me towards Johannesburg. The road was surprisingly quiet for most of the journey, even if bicycles are prohibited (I think?). No-one said anything at the many toll booths I rolled through.
Dark clouds had been following me all afternoon and there was nowhere to take shelter. I raced towards the town of Bethal, but moments after taking this photo the rain started. No wet-weather clothing was going to prevent a total soaking from the downpour that ensued.
A curious sight. Bit of an identity crisis taking place here.
Back in Johannesburg it wasn’t difficult to find a new bike box to package the bike for the flight back to Tanzania. As usual I removed the front wheel, handlebars, pedals, saddle, front rack, and deflated the tyres. Bubble-wrap or any plastic to prevent moving metal inside the box is always ideal. Fastjet charge $20 for sports luggage (which includes a bicycle) weighing up to 20kg. Great value, although with the weight of the box, a roll of duct tape and some string it meant I couldn’t put much more than the bicycle itself in the box. I think I got away with an additional few kg.
Another flight takes me from Dar es Salaam back to Mwanza. Somehow reassuring to see my bike box on the plane before I board.