Africa Cycle Tour – Botswana Part 2: Maun to Kazangula

Day 19 – Meeting Roma and sleeping at the police station

I had heard last night from a guy name Roma, a member of the Cairo to Cape Town cycle WhatsApp group, that he was in Maun and leaving in the morning to head towards Nata. Unfortunately, I woke up a bit late and he was already on his way but told me to try to meet up with him in a small village called Motopi.

I did a final bit of work and after breakfast said goodbye to my cousins whom I’d been staying with in Maun for a week. It was 100km to Motopi and it was already 10am when I got going so I knew I would have to cycle pretty fast to make it before evening. The first 50kms were fairly uneventful, I just cycled at a steady 20km/h along the long, flat road out of Maun. There was a bit of a headwind but nothing I couldn’t handle.

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At about 50km I reached a Veterinary checkpoint where they control the spread of foot and mouth disease. Any vehicle with tyres needs to drive through a small puddle of disinfectant chemicals, including bicycles. Everybody also has to wipe their shoes on a square of carpet that is also soaked in the disinfectant. I went through the process and then stopped by the nearby stall and had something to eat and drink. These little roadside stalls are very expensive and I spent $5 on some biscuits, chips, a can of beans and a cool drink. The stall owner told me had seen another cyclist who had told him to tell me to meet him in Motopi, so that must have been Romain.

At around 1pm I headed off and again had nothing but a straight flat road for the next few hours. I stopped at one point to test out the tripod invention I had made in Maun. Using the phone clip from a selfie-stick and an old traditional camera tripod that my cousin-in-law had kindly given me, I created a small phone tripod. I balanced it precariously on a road meter marker and then started filming and did two cycles by. The footage came out okay but I need to find more interesting backdrops to film on.

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Eventually, just before 4pm I arrived at the turnoff to Motopi and after a few kilometers down a nice side road towards Orapa I arrived in the tiny village. Romain hadn’t replied to the WhatsApp message I sent him (turns out he didn’t have a simcard) so I just headed towards the Kgotla, which is like the town hall of any small village which also acts as a police station and sometimes the chiefs home. Fortunately, Romain was there waiting for me. We made our introductions and I met with the police who man the station and explained I would also be camping there with Romain. As usual, they were very welcoming and told me where I can get water.

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Romain and I went to buy a coke and chatted for a bit about our trips so far. I decided we needed a beer so after setting up my tent I went and sourced us two. There wasn’t much else to do in town so made dinner quite early and then after getting constantly harassed by kids asking for sweets, we headed to bed.

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Day 20 – Elephants and Baobabs

I awoke around 6am having not slept too well. It had rained a bit in the night so Romain and I hung up our tent covers and then I made some coffee for us. For breakfast, we shared some bread and boiled eggs Raomin had left over. We faffed around a bit getting packed up and only got on the road by 8am which usually wouldn’t be a problem but we had 138kms to cover if we wanted to make it to my proposed destination that night – Planet Baobab. It’s quite a famous stopping point for overlander trucks and other travellers and had been recommended to me by a few people.

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We started off quite well, maintaining a solid 20km/h pace before the heat started setting in. By 11am we reached a small village and pulled off to go look for cold drinks. We found a small shop and had two ice cold cokes each – a life saver in this heat. We also decided we better eat some beans since we hadn’t had much breakfast. Food is really hard to come by in Botswana outside of the large cities and often small shops only have huge bags of corn meal, rice, beans, macaroni, tinned fish and if you’re really lucky, tomatoes and onions. Even bread is very rare and fresh fruit is non-existent. Local villagers seem to survive on mielie meal, beans and presumably the occasional unlucky goat. Romain, being a chef, was quite well prepared though with herbs and spices and managed to make some pretty decent meals out of the limited supplies. I, on the other hand, had been eating a lot of plain pasta and tomato sauce.

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Back on the road, we bumped into some elephants at around 2pm. They were just crossing the road so we waited but one big one spotted us as we started cycling past and starting flapping its ears at us. As a precaution, we started cycling back the other way and eventually it moved on. The rest of the trip was uneventful but very hot so we couldn’t move to fast. We stopped again briefly for some juice and biscuits under the shade a tree and then eventually by around 6pm we made it to Gweta where Planet Baobab is. We had a much-deserved cold beer outside a small petrol station and then finished the final 3km to Planet Baobab. Tragically their wifi wasn’t working but I was too tired and bothered to try to find somewhere else in Gweta so I accepted I’ll have to miss a day of work and make up for it tomorrow.

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They kindly phoned another lodge in town, Gweta Lodge, to check if their wifi was working and it was so we decided we would take a chill day there tomorrow and I’d catch up on work. We set up camp and then jumped in their awesome swimming pool. An overlander truck had stopped the night so there were a few other young British people swimming too but they went off for dinner soon after we arrived. Although it was a bit expenisve we decided to have a proper meal for one night at their restaurant. Before turning in we had a couple of beers at the bar and spoke to some of the overlander people about our trip.

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Day 21 – The awesome Gweta Lodge

In the morning we grabbed some of the over-priced restaurant coffee which was admittedly very good and then packed up and cycled the few kilometres into town to find Gweta Lodge. On arrival, the receptionist offered to give us a room at discount ($25 for the room) so we decided to take it as Romain hadn’t slept in a real bed for a while. Then we chilled by the pool while I worked. Romain went and bought some food from the small shop nearby and made us an awesome pasta for a kind of late breakfast. I finished up work and we had a few beers and swam and had some late lunch.

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Around about 5pm the owner came by the bar and offered us each a beer which we gladly accepted. We got chatting and had a few more beers and then he whipped out a bottle of brandy and coke and we got stuck in on that. After a few drinks, he offered to let us join the meerkat safari in the morning at a huge discount. Although the original plan was to leave early for Nata, we couldn’t say no. He said it would be back by 11am so possibly we could still make it to Nata if we wanted. After a few more brandy’s he took us to see all his 4×4 vehicles in his workshop and we chatted about the lodge and the tours he does. Eventually, by 11pm we stumbled drunkenly into bed and spent the night trying to ward off mosquitos.

Day 22 – Meerkat safari and sundowners

We groggily awoke at 6am and had a few cups of free coffee before crawling onto the safari vehicle and heading out into the Makgadikgadi salt pans to find some meerkats. The drive took an hour during which time we stopped to admire a huge baobab tree and I tried not to fall asleep. We picked up a local villager who was the guide said would help us find the meerkats. He came through and a few minutes later we stopped in the open plains and spent an hour or so watching a small family of meerkats popping in and out of their burrows.

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We continued on to see the salt pans and the other guests attempted to do those forced perspective photos that everybody loves doing on saltpans. Romain and I were maybe a bit too hungover to join in. Although we got back to the lodge even earlier than 11am we decided to chill another night, much to James the owners delight. He told us he would take us out to the pans later for some beers because he needs to find a camping spot for an upcoming safari.

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I spent the rest of the day getting work done, making lunch and swimming until around 3pm James came round and gave me a gin and tonic but said he was a bit busy to make it out to the salt pans today. Instead, he decided we would go to a nearby watering hole and watch the sunset with another bottle of brandy and coke, obviously. We chilled a bit longer, had a few more drinks and then headed off.

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The sunset was amazing over the watering hole and although no elephants came there were a lot of cows and donkeys. James also introduced us to his favorite snack – corned beef on salty cracks with onion, tomato, Aromat and sweet chili sauce. Considering the limited supplies you get out here it was quite an inventive snack.

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We finished off the evening with a few more drinks until it was dark and then headed back to the lodge and checked out an old 1918 Dodge that belonged to James’ grandfather. In my drunken state, I promised him I would return so we could work on rebuilding it and getting it running – a promise I hope to live up to, despite knowing nothing about car mechanics!

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Day 23 – Sketchy elephants and Ruperts campsite

Up at 6am, Romain and I packed and had some coffee and breakfast before settling our bill and hitting the road by 7:30. We didn’t have a big day ahead of us but it was still 100kms and the heat would start setting in soon. The usual headwind that we had become accustomed to set in fairly early but we did a good job of fighting against it. We stopped in a small village for some lunch and spent a while relaxing and avoiding the heat before realising we would need to get moving if we wanted to make it to Nata before dark.

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Since we were past the main part of the Mkagikagi game reserve I wasn’t expecting any elephants on the road but around 4pm we noticed three elephants hanging around on the right side. We stopped and waited for them to move but they didn’t look like they were going anywhere and after about 20 minutes I started to stress about the time. It was only about 20kms to Nata by now but the sun would be setting soon. Eventually, a truck passed going in the other direction and stopped to ask if we okay. We explained we were afraid of the elephants so they kindly offered to drive back with us in that direction and create a barrier to protect us. Fortunately, we got past safely and waved goodbye to our helpers as they turned to go back in their original direction.

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We arrived in Nata just after 5pm and quickly grabbed some food from the Choppies supermarket before heading to Eselbe camp where we spend the night. The camp was deserted when we arrived but eventually, the owner, Rupert, showed up and welcomed us. He didn’t have a bar but kindly drove me back to the bottle store so we could grab a few beers and then we all had dinner together. The camp was fairly basic and we were the only guests, but it was nice and quiet and I slept well. At 100 pula a night though, its a bit overpriced and I was surprised when he asked us to pay for the wine too but I happily obliged as he clearly needed the business.

Day 24 – Sleeping in a cell phone tower

We had an early breakfast of coffee and biscuits, thanked Rupert for his hospitality and headed off north onto the Elephant Highway – a 300km route through Chobe National Park that’s famous for its many elephants.

Other than two giraffes we didn’t encounter anything dangerous the initial part of the route. By lunchtime, we reached the veterinary checkpoint that controls the spread of disease into Chobe park and marks the entrance to the more densely populated part of it. We had planned to camp at some secure cell phone towers we had read about on various blogs that offered cyclists on the road protection from animals at night. Since parks in Botswana are entirely unfenced, it’s too dangerous to wild camp just anywhere but these cell phone towers are famous for offering protection to cyclists on the route.

However, when asking the police about the existence of the towers, they pretended to not know anything about them. We were a bit confused and wondering what to do when a group of three cyclists came towards us from the other direction. It was great to see some other cyclists and we all took some time to chat about our respective journeys so far. They confirmed the existence of the cell phone towers and assured us we would be able to camp there safely so after having some lunch we set off more confidently.

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After only about 20kms we reached the first tower and decided to see what the situation was. We found some workers there who were busy fixing an issue with one of the solar panels that had been damaged by an elephant which had breached the enclosure. They seemed happy to let us camp there the night but suggested we camp up on the roof of a building in case an elephant breaks in again. It seemed like a logical and safe plan, although a bit scary, so we decided to stay the night. Before heading off around 4pm, they kindly gave us some cold cokes and a few bottles of water which was a lifesaver since we were seriously running low.

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We chilled the rest of the afternoon, climbed the cell phone tower to take photos and then around 6pm made a fire to cook some dinner. We had our usual tomato, onion and tuna pasta with a slightly unique twist being cooked on an open fire rather than the gas stove. After eating and watching a beautiful sunset we had a coffee and lay on the roof staring at the incredible star-filled sky and listening to the distant crack of elephants walking around. After heading to bed I heard an elephant walk very close to the compound but it moved on fairly quickly.

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Day 25 – Long stretch to Pandamatenga

We awoke just as the sun was rising and I made some coffee and then we made instant noodles for breakfast. Just as we finished we heard loud cracking behind and turned to find an elephant right up against the gate surrounding the compound. The large, steel gate suddenly didn’t look very big or strong anymore. The elephant flapped its ears, trumpeted quite loudly and for a tense moment, I thought it might try break into the compound but eventually, it calmed down and moved off.

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We packed up soon afterward, cleaned up the areas of the compound we had used and then head off to complete the rather long 112km cycle to Pandamatenga. After 40kms we stopped at the next cell phone tower where the occupants kindly gave us some water and let us relax in the shade for a while. After that cell tower, we had been told there would be nothing for the next 70kms to Pandamatenga and it was true. We cycled through fairly brutal heat, saw a few cars and stopped once for a quick and rather scary snack on the roadside but saw little else.

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A short while after our break I noticed an elephant hidden in the shadows right by the roadside. Roma was ahead of me but hadn’t noticed the elephant and had headphones in so didn’t hear me when I called to warn him. The elephant seemed to head towards him but after I shouted it turned its attention on me. I quickly turned around and started cycling the other way, which was when Roma looked and got the fright of his life when he saw a huge elephant charging into the road. Luckily it was just a mock charge and after a few steps the elephant turned back and headed into the bushes but we both left a little shaken. Roma decided headphones in the Chobe park weren’t the best plan after all.

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Eventually by around 5pm, after a long and hard final push, we reached an army base just before Pandamatenga and stopped for a beer with some of the local soldiers. After a brief chat, we completed the last few kilometers, stopped to pick up some supplied and then arrived at our campsite for the night – Touch of Africa.

It’s a fairly nice lodge and campsite run by an Austrian guy who had lived in the area for decades. He informed us there had been lions in the camp the night before and then showed us where we can camp, telling us to use a torch and be careful of the lions. Seems safe.

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We met another cyclist who was also heading north and had come all the way from Cairo over the past year or so. I got some work done while he and Romain cooked boerewors spaghetti for dinner and then we had a few beers and headed to bed. During the night we could hear the lions roaring not too far off in the bush.

Day 26 – Last stretch to the border

After coffee and some farewells to our new friend, we headed off for the final stretch towards the Zambia border. We were hoping to get there early enough to cross into Zambia, clear immigration and still find somewhere to camp so I cycled pretty hard. Luckily it was flat and lacking the usual headwind so we managed to get into a good pace maintaining around 30km an hour for the most part. Other than a brief break around midday we pretty much cycled straight through and made it Kazangula by about 3pm. We grabbed some fried chicken and Pepsi for lunch from Choppies and then headed to the border. After checking out of Botswana quickly and easily we bordered the small ferry that crosses into Zambia. The crossing is at the only point in the world where four countries meet at one point and as such is the only place in the world where you can be on a ferry in four countries at once.

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On the other side, we disembarked and had the usual guys trying to help us organize everything in the hope for a tip. They did promise some very cheap accommodation so I agreed and went along with it. Immigration for me was fairly quick although Romain had to draw money to pay for his visa. Then we stopped on the way to get sim cards and arrived a really rundown looking motel which was pretty crappy but they gave us a room for $10 so we took it.

We grabbed a few beers from the nearby bar, cheers our achievements so far and got ready for new adventures in Zambia.

Cycling Africa – Botswana

How to almost die of dehydration

I crossed into Botswana from South Africa last night and camped at a small lodge on the border post at Martin’s Drift. It’s was surprisingly expensive, at 140 pula (about $10) just to camp! I was warned before coming that Botswana is not cheap.

I cooked up some oats and coffee for breakfast, then packed up my stuff and used the lodge wifi to do some quick work before hitting the road. I had a litre of water from the camp but bought one more litre from the gas station and then got going. I wanted to draw cash and get a simcard but the station didn’t have either and said I could get further down the road.

After a few kilometres I passed an even smaller gas station but it didn’t look like it would have either so I assumed the place they meant was further along.

Boy, was I WRONG!

For the next 100 kilometres there was absolutely NOTHING. Ok, there was a few donkeys and several cows but they didn’t have any water to sell me and even if they did – I had no cash!

I continued to cycle on, 10 kilometres, 20 kilometres, 30 kilometres all passing me by, constantly thinking there must be something up ahead? Surely!? But alas I was alone in a never-ending landscape split in half by a hot strip of tar.

Fortunately, I had filled both my water bottles before leaving but this was nowhere near enough water to get me the 100 kilometres to Palapye. Eventually, at around 60 kilometres, I saw what I thought could only be a mirage – two women sitting at a table under a tree! I cycled off the road and gingerly approached them, expecting the dehydration-mirage to disappear at any second, but no! They were real!

They had some pots and a small stove and appeared to be selling food to passing travellers. I asked if they had any water and they indicated that they have frozen bottles for 8 pula. I emptied my coins on the table, a paltry 2.50 pula, and explained my situation and the error of my ways. Fortunately, the road Gods took pity on me and these lovely women gave me the remaining half of their own two-litre water bottle, which amazingly was mostly frozen! I thanked them profusely and promised to repay them should I pass back this way.

Now with just enough water to potentially get me safely to Palapye, I cycled off with renewed energy. This didn’t last too long, as the midday heat and sun beat down on me relentlessly. Eventually, by 1 pm, I decided I needed to take refuge in the shade of a tree before I die.

Long rest and a surprise gift

I put down my sleeping mat, ate some biscuits, drank lots of water and desperately tried to cool down in the shade. After about half an hour a car pulled up suddenly and braked sharply, a man jumping out in a hurry. I sat up in a start, wondering what I had done wrong. He leapt out pf his car and handed me a mango, instructing me to eat, and then wandered off to shout at some cows. How bizarre.

I graciously devoured the mango as I the only other food I had was biscuits and dry noodles. The man returned shortly, gave a smiling wave goodbye and sped off again. Another road angel! After a further hour rest, I decided I was cool enough to continue the last 30 kilometres.

After about 10 km I came to what I now know was a veterinary checkpoint to reduce the spread of cow disease. I stopped there to waterproof my stuff as I could see a storm coming on the horizon – surely the water I prayed for! They also had a large container of water onsite and offered me some happily and for free. Now I had more water than I could carry!

After a few more kilometres a gale began blowing into me and the first drops of rain fell. Tired and unable to pedal into a headwind, I flagged down a truck and asked them to take me Palapye. They gladly agreed and I threw my bike in the back while I jumped in the rear cab. Within a few minutes, a storm of unimaginable proportions exploded from the sky, absolutely drenching everything. I realized I would need to keep an eye out and avoid these in the coming weeks as they are certainly not safe to cycle in.

Itumela Camp

The truck dropped me at the Palapye intersection where there’s a shopping centre and a few food places, so I parked my bike, drew some cash and ravenously devoured an expensive chicken meal from a fast food shop. Then I decide to buy a sim card. After putting in the sim, setting it up and loading data I still couldn’t get any internet and told the staff at the shop their stupid simcard doesn’t work. Then the friendly woman at the counter took my phone and switched mobile data on. Oops.

I was finally ready to cycle the last 5 kilometres to Itumela rest camp where I planned to stay the night. The rain had finally subsided and the town had that dusky after-rain glow to it as I cycled around puddles and wet sand.

When I arrived I was tired, sunburnt and exhausted and needed a good night’s rest in a proper room, so I decided to take a dorm bed. Fortunately, I was the only one (as so often happens with dorms in Africa), so I had the whole place to myself. After showering I headed to the bar to work but the wifi wasn’t working so I had to use my newly purchased data. Luckily it was working and was quite fast. There were a few other people hanging around the bar, mostly the staff, but I was too tired to socialize, so after a few beers, I hit the hay.

Day 9: A small rest and restock

I slept like a log on my comfortable bed in the nice cool dorm but still didn’t feel ready to head off again immediately in the morning. I decided to take a chill day, buy supplies and sort out some things.

First thing, I needed to move to a campsite as it was too expensive to stay in the dorm a second night, so I packed up and moved everything. Then I went to ask about breakfast but they weren’t serving any and also informed me that the drinking water had been turned off by the council.

This meant I had to walk all the way into town just to get some food and water. I had slept quite late so by now it was 10am and getting hot. I made the mission and stocked up on loads of food for the road ahead but the Spar didn’t have any bottled water for sale. Luckily there was an Oasis water shop nearby. Obviously, the cash machine didn’t accept my card so I had to walk halfway back across town to another cash machine and then come back for the water. By the time I got back to Itumela it was almost lunch time.

Anyway, I ate some breakfast and then decided to try to find the source of the clicking sound coming from my crank shaft. While riding around the campsite I discovered an awesome camp kitchen with a covered roof area, so I moved my tent there in case of rain and so I could use the cooking equipment.

A failed lunch

I had bought some samp and beans because I was trying to be all local and decided I give them a try, only to discover samp needs to be soaked overnight! I had already started boiling it in water so I just took it off the stove and left it to soak for dinner while I made noodles and soya mince instead.

Then I headed back to the bar to see if the wifi was back, but no such luck. Again, I had to work off mobile data – which I calculated costs me about $1 per article, which is annoying but not too bad. After a few hours work, I headed back to have my samp dinner which seemed a bit small now, so I added some spaghetti and a tin of tomato and onion and in the end, it came out pretty good.

When I returned to the bar they had finally fixed the wifi so I did one more article, had a beer and then headed to bed in preparation for waking up at 4am. It had been raining a bit earlier so now it was humid as hell and my tent was a sauna. I knew it would be hard to sleep but I had no choice and just lay there naked and sweating on my shitty thin mattress.

As soon as I fell asleep I heard an insane rattling noise that sounded like a machine gun right next to my head. I awoke with a start and the noise stopped. Then it came again, so loud it sounded like it was in my tent! I realized eventually it was the world loudest bullfrog, croaking in the pond right outside my tent. This continued non-stop throughout the night, this insane gunfire rattling every 3 seconds. Needless to say, I barely got any sleep and didn’t wake up at 4 am.

Day 10 – To Khama Rhino Sanctuary

After desperately trying to sleep through the gunfire croaking of the toad right outside my tent, I eventually dragged myself out of bed at 6 am. By now it was already light and I missed a lot of the cool morning I was hoping to most of my cycling done in.

I packed quickly, skipped breakfast and hurried off, stopping to buy a pie at the only shop I could find open – a gas station. Fortunately, it was still quite cool for the first three hours and I managed to cover the 50 kilometres to Serowe by 11 am.

Along the way, a policeman drove up next to me to ask where I was heading and where I camped, but otherwise, it was a mostly uneventful few hours.

50kms later In Serowe, I stopped for a second breakfast/early lunch at a Hungry Lion fast food joint. They didn’t have wifi, of course, so I did one article off data again while eating fried chicken and coleslaw. Then I drew some extra cash in preparation for the next few days through the remote Kalahari desert, where I probably wouldn’t find any shops but emergency cash is always a good idea.

Ice cream in Paje

I listened to music for the first time on this trip as I cycled the next 10 kilometres through beautiful countryside to the quaint village of Paje. I was planning to stock up on last-minute food supplies here but the place turned out to be a real tiny African village. Some guys flagged me down and told me to eat with them but I explained I’d already had lunch. I bought an ice cream from their stall, which appeared to only sell ice cream, and they kindly filled up my water bottles with chilled water.

Then one guy, my new friend Patrick, took me to his cousins store to get some supplies. Unfortunately, it was a bit limited to mostly rice, beans and tea but I managed to secure some macaroni and a tin of chakalaka for a slightly high import price. I gave Patrick 5 pula for his troubles and cycled off to Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where I planned to camp the night.

On arrival, it didn’t work out so well though. The campsite is actually inside the sanctuary so you can only enter with a vehicle. They seemed to think maybe a ranger could take me in but I would still have to pay the full 84 pula park entrance fee on top of the 105 pula camp fee, even though I can’t actually see any of the park. This seemed ridiculous – $20 to camp for the night?! This left me with a bit of an issue, as it was getting late now and there was much ahead for another 50 kilometres.

The Khama Rhino receptionist explained I could go camp at a cattle pen down the road where they have water and possibly even a cold shower, but first I asked if I could have something to eat at their restaurant and used their wifi to get some work done. They agreed and a ranger took me the 300m to the restaurant. Just before 4 pm, a thunderstorm began and it starting raining and hailing hard for about an hour. When I got back, fortunately, they had moved my bike out the rain although not before most things got wet.

A failed camp mission

After searching for an hour I couldn’t find the cattle ranch and decided I’ll just have to wild camp somewhere. I cycled on past Khama Rhino for 6 kilometres and stopped at a rest stop as the sun was setting. As I was considering setting up camp there a stray dog came and starting barking aggressively at me. I took out my mace and walked off slowly towards the road with my bike. The dog entered the rest stop and starting eating trash off the floor.

I decided this was bullshit and I was gonna go back to Khama Rhino and ask if I can just camp at the gate. Upon arriving back they seemed confused how I had not found the cattle ranch but as it was getting dark now I asked if I couldn’t just camp near reception and I’ll leave early – I was even happy to pay the camp fees of 105 pula.

They discussed between themselves and then said okay let’s just get me checked in. I asked how much it will cost and they said don’t worry about it so I figured they have taken pity on me and might let me stay free. Unfortunately, as I found out in the morning, this was a bit of a trick, as they then asked me to pay the full 200 pula amount! On reflection, I should have just refused and left but stupidly I paid.

The wifi wasn’t working that evening because of the rain so I just watched some TV in the restaurant before going to sleep.

Day 11 – Back to Palapye

This morning as I left Khama Rhino, the grinding noise in my bike was worse than ever. News from my cousin in Maun wasn’t reassuring either – there were certainly no bike repair shops there that could help me. As I cycled towards Orapa and further away from Gaborone I began to consider my situation.

It was highly unlikely the problem would go away or fix itself and the further I got from civilization the less likely I would find a mechanic and replacement parts. Eventually, I bit the bullet, turned around and decided to go to Gaborone and get it fixed once and for all. It would shed some days off my trip, but I wasn’t on a tight schedule so it didn’t matter much.

Halfway back to Serowe, one of the friendlier rangers from Khama Rhino passed by and asked why I was going back. I explained my situation and he said to he’ll take me to a bike shop he knows. I doubted a bike shop in Serowe would have imported French parts but I came along for the ride. Naturally, it didn’t in the end but I thanked him for his help and cycled off back towards Palapye to check with a mechanic there that he recommended.

Unable to find any help there either, I decided to call it a day and check back in at Itumela Campsite. It was Saturday now and nothing would be open until Monday so no point rushing to Gaborone where accommodation would no doubt be more expensive. I grabbed some beers and lunch and headed to Itumela to relax for the afternoon. That evening I took advantage of having the Sunday off and got quite drunk with a Scots guy and someone else playing pool.

Day 12 – Lazy Sunday

Today was a bit of non-day. I woke up on a bed in the dorm where clearly I had somehow managed to pass out drunk. Fortunately, nobody else was in there and nobody noticed that I wasn’t supposed to be there, so I quickly snuck back to my tent.

After some coffee, a shower and a bit of breakfast of samp and beans, I went to the train station to ask about a train to Gaborone. A security guard said it only opens at 2 pm and to come back then so I went to the bottle store but it was closed. Lame.

Back at Itumela, I decided I may as well get some work done and then had lunch and went back at 2 to the station. I was informed there is a train just after midnight that arrives early morning in Gaborone but since no parcel staff were on duty I wouldn’t be able to check in my bike.

I decided to give up on the train and just hitchhike early in the morning. I did some more work back at Itumela, had dinner and some drinks, played some more pool and then secretly slept in the dorm room again since it has a fan and is away from the loud frogs.

Day 13 – Hitching to Gaborone

I was up and packed by 7 am and began cycling south for about 10km’s to get out of Palapye before hitchhiking. After about 10 minutes a workers vehicle that has just passed me turned around and came back to ask if I need help. I explained I had bike trouble and needed to get to Gaborone. They were only going to the next town of Mahalapye but agreed to take me there.

In Mahalapye they dropped me off just past the town and I cycled a bit further out before beginning to hitch again near a bus stop. Again, after only about ten minutes a guy in a pickup stopped and agreed to take me all the way to Gaborone. We chatted along the way about Botswana and crime in South Africa. After about 2 hours we arrived in Gaborone and struggled a bit to find the bike shop which had recently moved. Eventually, he got me there and I gave him 50 pula for his troubles.

The bike shop seemed unsure about my problem and needed to investigate so I left it with them and went to grab lunch and do some work at a nearby Steers. While there the bike shop guy found me and told me the issue was actually in my rear cassette not my bottom bracket bearings as I had expected. This was the same cassette I had replaced just a few weeks ago so I asked him to double check as it seemed odd that it broke so quickly.

Surprise Encounter!

While waiting, a woman I didn’t recognize came up and asked if I was Mark Hartley. I briefly thought I had finally become famous but it turned out to be Inga, my father’s cousin’s daughter, who had recognized me from Facebook. We hadn’t seen each other since I was 12 years old. I explained my situation to her and her husband and they immediately invited me to stay the night with them while the bike is repaired.

Back at the bike shop, the mechanic said it is a cassette issue and I’m likely looking at about $150 to fix the bike properly because the rear hub would need to be replaced too. I told them to get me an exact price and I’ll come back tomorrow.

I went back with Inga and partner to her home just outside of Gaborone where they have a bit of a farm with miniature horses, ducks, geese, peacocks, quail, rabbits and a few other things. They show me the spare guest cottage where I could spend the night and I met their two young daughters who were off school for the holidays. That evening we caught up over dinner and a few drinks.

Day 14 – Chill time in Gaborone

I spent most of the morning getting work done and then went in the afternoon with Inga and John to check up on my bicycle. On the ride there I spent the entire time considering my options – could I afford to spend the estimated $150 on repairs or should I simply abandon the trip for now until I can buy a better touring bicycle in Europe later?

As it turned out, the store was unable to source the correct parts needed to fix it but directed me to a guy named Paul who may be able to help. We gave him a call but unfortunately, he was heading out for the day and said he would only be free tomorrow. So we put the bike in the back of the car and went to do some shopping for dinner. Passing a pharmacy I was reminded that I need to still get my yellow fever injection for Malawi and Inga kindly called up a doctor and arranged an appointment for the very next day!

We swam that evening before dinner and afterwards I met the neighbour’s son and a friend who catch snakes for fun. They brought in a python and two egg eater snakes that swallow quail eggs and regurgitate the shell. Lovely. We also watched a tiny duckling being born before getting to bed early since the school was starting again in the morning and the kids would have to be up at 7 am.

Day 15 – Paul’s Amazing Bike Store

After grabbing an early morning coffee I went with John and Inga to their office and then checked at another bicycle store next door if they could help at all. Again, they didn’t have the correct parts so we called Paul. He said we could come round immediately, so we headed off.

Paul runs a shop that is a subsidiary of Mike’s Bikes, which is a kind of charity organization that ships in large containers of bikes from the United States to support cycling in Africa. They also run a bike shop and sell and repair bikes to cover costs. The store is run from the most incredible old game lodge out in Mokolodi reserve, with a huge three-story main house overlooking a bar and swimming pool area. The entire house and every room is completely stuff full of bicycles and bike parts with everything you could possibly imagine from BMX’s to fixies, to full carbon racers, 29ers, mountain bikes, fat bikes and classic old steel frame antique collectables. It is truly a cyclist’s heaven and worth a visit even if you don’t need any repairs done.

Paul immediately took great interest in my trip and offered to do all he could to help, free of charge, wherever possible. We couldn’t find a suitable rear cassette to replace my broken one, so he took me to look through the crates of bicycles to find a replacement rear wheel with cassette included. We found an excellent Alexrims wheel with an 8-speed cartridge which the mechanic fitted and adjusted my 7-speed shifter to somehow accommodate all 8 gears!

He also replaced my handlebar tap, gave me a new seat, a second bottle holder, cycling shorts and rear rack – all free of charge! I couldn’t believe my luck and was incredibly appreciative, not only for the gifts but also the level of help and interest he showed. Although Paul wouldn’t accept any money from me, I tipped his skilled mechanics 100 pula each to say thanks.

I was planning to catch the train that evening to Francistown but decided to stay one final night and test the bicycle properly the next day to ensure everything is ready before I leave. This decision may possibly have been influenced by John and Inga’s spectacular hospitality and the enjoyment of the company after a week of relative solitude.

Day 16 – Final day in Gaborone

We headed off early again in the morning to John and Inga’s office and after some minor adjustments, I cycled off on a 20-kilometre circumnavigation of the city. The new wheels and gears definitely felt like a great improvement on the old ones and the only slight problem was the rear rack which needed some adjusting. After lunch, we picked up the daughters from school and headed back to Paul’s bike shop because John and Inga wanted to buy them some bicycles. I got my seat adjusted and spent some more time looking through all the gear like a kid on Christmas.

With the bike now ready to go, we drove to the train station and I checked it into the parcel carriage and bought a ticket for the 9:30 pm train that night. In usual African style, it took as long as possible but eventually it was all packed and ready to go by 5 pm. We headed back home for one final meal and then my wonderful hosts dropped me back off at the station at 9 pm.

I can’t be more appreciative of the incredible generosity and hospitality John and Inga showed me while staying in Gaborone. They went far out of their way to help an almost-stranger and I hope one day to have the opportunity to repay their kindness.

Cycling Africa – Mozambique

Camping in a laundry, breaking my finger and getting harassed by police…

Day 1

I’m on my way to Mozamboogy festival in the sleepy coastal village of Ponta de Ouro, Mozambique, near the South African border. I’m coming from the north though, so I enter via the Komatipoort border post between the Kruger National Park and Swaziland. With only a few hundred kilometres to Ponta de Ouro, I should make it within two days.

I get through customs without any issues but the town on the other side is a typical border town – poor, rough, and with dodgy characters hanging around. It’s getting dark now so I cycle off quickly, hoping I find somewhere safe to camp for the night. The air is cloudy with smoke from fires that villagers are cooking on, creating a moody feel reflecting the rays of the setting sun.

Within a few kilometres, I come to a roadside motel and enquire about prices. It’s a bit out of my budget though, at 3000 Mozambiquan Meticals (MZN) for a room – the equivalent of 600 South African Rand (ZAR). I ask if I can camp around back for the night but the owner isn’t around and his employee is not comfortable making a decision. He tells me to try another place further down the road but instructs me to return if I have no luck because it’s not safe to camp on the roadside here.

At the next place I’m greeted by a friendly man who offers me a room at a similar price but I can tell he thinks its a very cheap offer. I explain that I’m cycling around the world and I’m very low on cash so I carry a tent for camping on the roadside. He’s seems a bit confused at first but then suddenly becomes very sympathetic and says I can camp for free in the back garden. He shows me where I can get water and offers me use of the shower and toilet facilities. I’m very grateful and give him ZAR50 for his troubles as I don’t have any Mozambican money yet.

After setting up my campsite in the lush garden next to the swimming pool, I go to watch TV in the bar area at my host’s request. He gives me some free peanuts and I desperately want to buy a beer but feel that wouldn’t align with my ‘poor traveller’ sentiment. I settle for tap water, which unfortunately is warm. After watching some old 80’s movie dubbed into Portuguese (the local language), I head off to spend my first night in the tent that I carried around the whole of India and never once used.

Day 2

In the morning I wake early to a dewey morning and pack up while the sun rises. By 6am I’m on the road, heading direct for the capital, Maputo. The road heads towards the coast so it’s slightly downhill pretty much all the way, with no real wind to speak of. As a result I cover the 100kms to Maputo before lunch time. The road is long and boring with nothing but fields on either side until I get close to Maputo. Just before the city there is a smaller town called Matola which appears to be a busy trading post for vehicles heading north and south and delivering goods for the capital.

It’s horribly busy and the dusty streets are packed full of trucks weaving around the half-finished construction works. I pass through a toll booth just before Maputo and instead of letting me simply pass around the boom I’m told to go back and join the pedestrian route. Seems a bit nonsensical but I comply anyway. The last few hundred metres into Maputo are uphill and I arrive sweating in the midday heat at Base Backpackers.

The original plan was to stay the night here but since its only lunch time I decide to only stop for lunch and hopefully do some work using their wifi. The receptionist kindly agrees to look after my bicycle while I head out to draw cash, buy a simcard and grab some lunch. Then I head back and offer to buy a beer or two in exchange for use of the hostel wifi.

At around 3pm I decide I better head off as I still need to catch the ferry across the Umbuluzi river and then cycle the last 40 kilometres to Bella Vista. I thank the staff and promise to return and spend a night on my way back.

Heading down to the ferry I’m exceptionally careful not to break any road rules after a warning from the receptionist that police will try get money out of me for any silly reason. I arrive and the ferry is busy loading, so I quickly cycle on amongst the throngs of fishermen, fruit sellers and vehicles.

Presently, the ferry departs and starts the short 20 minute cruise across the river mouth. It provides excellent views of the new bridge that is being built to cross this section of river and connect Maputo with southern Mozambique via a brand new highway. The bridge is the last section to be completed, meaning I’ll have a fresh tar now all the way to Ponta de Ouro.

Nobody comes around asking me to pay so it appears I get a free ferry ride! I disembark on the other side and have to cycle over some rough dirt road with sandy patches before the tar begins. I slide out in some sand while passing a biker and say “Oh shit!”. He laughs and tells me I’m going to have quite a few more “oh shit” moments. Maybe the road isn’t as complete as I’ve been told?

Eventually after a few bumpy kilometres I reach a brand new section of tar road and pick up the pace, heading south. It’s after 4pm now and the sun sets at 6pm so I’ll need to cycle flat out to avoid the dark. Fortunately, the brand new road has a clean, wide shoulder so I can move quickly and avoid traffic. Unfortunately, there are some sections that aren’t complete so several times I have to take a slow, dirt road detour around unfinished sections.

Although I can’t quite see the ocean, the scenery and vegetation around here is more coastal than the farmland coming into Maputo. It’s mostly green bush with the occasional palm tree and a mild breeze that keeps me cool despite the intense sun.

After two hours I’m exhausted, I still haven’t arrived at Bela Vista and its starting to get dark. I check the map and it seems further than it should be. On changing Google Maps to satellite view I realise the reason – despite appearing in satellite photos, the new road hasn’t yet been added to the main map. The satellite photo shows it winds quite a long way inland as opposed to the old road – meaning my route is actually about 10kms longer than indicated to me.

I briefly toy with the idea of just camping on the roadside but everything around me is very dense bush and I haven’t got any food since I didn’t plan to camp. I eventually just decide to push on through the dark as it should only be another half an hour or so and traffic is slim. By the time I arrive in Bela Vista it’s very dark and I turn off the road to head into the main town which is on the coast. Loud music is coming from the end of the road and it seems to be quite crowded with people, which seems odd for a Tuesday night.

I stop at a guesthouse and explain my story, asking if there is anywhere safe to camp off the street. The owner seems uncertain but invites me inside, asking if I’m sure I wouldn’t like to take one of his rooms. Again they are out of my budget and I offer to pay him something in exchangefor camping on the grounds. We eventually agree on R150 (about $10) for me to camp in the laundry room which includes my own private toilet, so as long as I leave early in the morning. I assure him I’ll be off at 6am.

After setting up my tent on the rather hard concrete floor, I head down to the bar area to get some food and drink. I can’t say no to their 50 meticais beers (less than $1 US) so I have two while getting some work done.

DAY 3

I’m up with the sun at 5:30am and packed and on the road by 6, as promised. On the way out I pop into the bar to see if I can get a coffee but the staff direct me to another room. There I find a few people having breakfast. I sit down and ask for a coffee which is promptly delivered along with a breakfast of bread, cheese and salad. Apparently this is included with the rooms, although I’m not sure the kitchen staff realise I’m not an “actual” guest. I keep quiet, eat quickly and head off before anyone says anything.

Today is a short day of only about 70kms which means I should make it to Ponta de Ouro with enough time to find a lift to the festival and setup camp before dark. The last few kilometres to the festival site on the beach is entirely sand and accessible only by 4×4.

About halfway, I reach a game reserve which is gated off but the entrance isn’t closed or manned by security, although it does have a sign warning of some wildlife, including elephant and crocodile. I guess not a lot of people cycle this road but there is no other route south and I figure the animals will likely avoid the main road, so I head in.

I keep a keen eye out but don’t see any animals and the few cars that pass don’t appear to be concerned with my presence. After a few kilometres the park ends and I exit onto the main road and continue south through sandy, coastal grasslands. At around 12pm I arrive at an intersection and turn left towards the Ponte and the ocean. After a few more kilometres the road ends in a construction site and I continue a bit further until the dirt becomes sand and I have to start pushing my bike.

After pushing a short distance throug the blazing heat I reach a small wooden bar and decide its beer time. I grab a cheap quart of beer and join some locals on a log outside. They’re very interested in my bike and as usual can’t believe I’ve cycled so far. We get chatting and I mention the festival which they say they are also attending. We make introductions and I tell them I’ll see them there, before continuing on through the sand.

Eventually I reach the centre of town, grab a beer and begin hitch-hiking at the intersection, hoping someone will take me to festival. Within a few minutes a guy stops and says he saw a post I put on the Facebook group asking for a lift – what a stroke of luck! We grab a few more beers, pile my bike into the back of his 4×4 and head off.

We get chatting along the way and by the time we arrive we’re best mates and he invites me to camp with him and his crew, which turn out to be a huge contingent of festival goers from Durban in South Africa.

The festival goes down well except towards the end when I slam a thorn through my finger while trying to make a fire. It gets stuck between the knuckle of my middle finger and I have to yank it hard to get it out, tearing through the flesh and joints. I manage to patch up the bleeding but by the next day it’s very purple and swollen.

As a result, I end up spending a few days longer in Ponta de Ouro than expected, during which time I chill on the beach and strip and clean my bike as best I can with diesel. Eventually, about a week after arriving, I’m ready to head back. I leave very early Sunday morning with the plan to cycle all the way to Maputo, about 110kms.

Again I have to go through the game reserve and this time I am lucky enough to see an elephant quite close to the road. I stop for lunch at a tiny roadside stall and have a conversation with some friendly locals who again can’t believe I’m cycling all the way to Maputo, which at this point is only 50kms away!

I reach the end of the tar by about 4pm and once again have to brave the sand and dirt to the ferry port. Unfortunately, this time the shaking wobbles a screw free from my pannier rack and I can’t find it in the dirt, so have to improvise with a cable tie – the cyclists lifesaver! I join the queue for the ferry and have to actually pay the 30 meticais fee this time.

Once across, I disembark and start cycling back to the hostel. Along the way I stop on the roadside to check my Google maps and a sneaky police car that I didn’t notice, stops and calls me over. Here we go..

The police ask for my passport and then tell me I owe a 5,000 meticais fine for stopping in the road because it’s ‘dangerous’. There’s no way I’m giving these clowns 5000 meticais so I show them a 100 meticais note and tell them its all I have. After some resistance, I insist they can take me to the station and I’ll pay a fine there. Of course, as usual, they eventually give up and send me on my way.

Back at Base backpackers hostel I check in to a dorm room for R180 (about $12) and grab a much-needed beer and shower, in that order. I think this is the only backpackers in Maputo and its clearly popular as its quite busy with a mix of travellers from Germany, the UK, the States and various other places. One guy said he’s been staying there for over a week!

My left crank is loose and has been giving trouble, so the following day, after getting some work done, I head off in search of a bicycle repair shop. I find one and they simply tighten the crank and send me on my way. Seems to do the trick.

Back at the hostel, I get chatting to a cool British guy who’s been traveling and working throughout Africa, in places like Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. I tell him of my plans and he gives some recommendations on places to visit. Then we head out to dinner with an American girl and grab more than a few beers at a pub afterwards.

I haven’t got too far to go on my final day, assuming it will only take a few hours to the border, as before, so I awake late and only leave at 11am. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the mild uphill and a gale force headwind. The initial 10kms is okay but once I turn with my back to the coast I have to fight into a wind so strong I might as well be walking. Eventually, at around 4 pm, I stop and wave down a taxi to take me the last 20kms to the border – I’m finished!

Cycling Africa – Swaziland

Swaziland border to Nisela

I continued on past the border post with the aim to reach Nisela Game Reserve, 40km’s away. The tour guide I had met at the service station in South Africa told me it would be a good place to camp.

I was fairly tired by now so stopped for a half hour rest at the border town and bought some water. I had another funny chat with a local guy who couldn’t understand why I was doing this and then got back on the road.

The roads are equally as nice as South Africa along this section, well paved and with a wide shoulder. I was surrounded on all sides but what must be sugar cane fields, as loads of broken bits of sugar cane filled the road.

The locals walking this section didn’t appear to be as friendly as in South Africa, often not responding to my waves or greetings. They were likely just confused as to what I was doing.

After about an hour I took refuge in the shade of a bus stop and rested for a while to cool down. By now I had cycled over 120km’s and was quite exhausted so the last slog to Nisela was a tough one. I kept checking my Google Maps, wondering how I’m not there yet!

Eventually, a sign for Nisela appeared around the last corner and within a few minutes, I saw the entrance come up on the right. I cycled into reception, sweaty and exhausted, and checked in for a camping spot.

They had a function on in the main bar and dining room that evening so I had to quickly shower and get food before 6pm. I had a beer and sandwich and then ordered another beer to take away.

While sitting by my campsite two park rangers came up to me and for a moment my guilty conscience assumed I had done something wrong but they just wanted to borrow my bicycle pump.

Seeing as there wasn’t much else to do, I took a photo with a zebra and then got to bed very early, around 8pm.

Day 6: Short cycle to Big Bend

It was Monday now and I needed wifi to work but Nisela only had these ridiculous vouchers that give you 15 minutes of Internet with 100MB data limit.

I was still exhausted from the day before and didn’t want to cycle too far but luckily discovered that there was a backpackers called Entsabeni only 30km up the road near Big Bend. The receptionist kindly called them for me to confirm that they have wifi before I headed off.

As I’ve since learned, Google Maps is not very accurate in Swaziland so I missed the turn-off and ended up in a small village settlement where the backpackers was reported to be.

I really didn’t want to waste the day looking for the place so I decided to cycle back to a place called Lismore Lodge I had passed a few km’s back and see if they have wifi and a cheap bed. On the way, I thought I’ll quickly check one more side road and to my luck I discovered Entsabeni.

Unfortunately, Entsabeni is not actually a backpackers but more of a guest house, with only private rooms. They did have fast wifi though and I couldn’t be bothered to check elsewhere so I decided to spoil myself (and my budget) for one night.

I was the only guest so I had the entire place to myself and spent all day catching up on work. Around about 3pm they told me they would be closing the kitchen for the night, so I ordered dinner to be kept for later and at 4pm everybody went home, leaving the entire house to myself.

I hadn’t watched TV in months and they had satellite, so I ate and watched stupid sitcoms until eventually getting to bed a bit later than planned at 10pm.

Day 7: Uphill to Lobamba

Nodoby was around when I awoke at 5am but I had already paid the evening before so I packed had some coffee and got back on the road by 6am.

I knew today would be difficult because it was 100km’s, almost entirely uphill. It began off fairly calmly with a cycle through Big Bend and a minor incline that steadily became steeper throughout the day. It was still early morning so the first few hours weren’t too hot.

Around about 10 am it began to get hilly and hot, so I stopped to get some breakfast at a small roadside shop. I bought three cream donuts, water, Energade, chocolates and biscuits all for only R40 ($3).

After a half hour rest and feeling re-energized, I got back on the road. Quickly the hills began to come in succession, one after the other with each getting bigger than the last. It was now only 25km to Manzini, my planned lunch stop, but it was also 38 degrees Celcius and I was forced to stop at the rise of each hill and find some shade to cool down.

It took me almost two hours just to do 15km’s and get within the final, huge hill before Manzini. Here the shoulder was almost entirely gone and what was left of it was often filled with sand or scrub from bushes. As a result, I was often having to cycle in the road a little bit.

Around here many people stand on the road waiting for taxi’s, which hoot to indicate they have space to pick you up. Unfortunately, trucks also hoot when they don’t have space to pass you and need you to get off the road. In one case I didn’t move off the road, think it was a taxi hooting, and very almost got killed. The truck passed me so close its trailer scraped along my arm but it made no effort to slow down. I wobbled off the road briefly into some sand but didn’t fall and continued on.

From there on I was being very cautious to stay within the shoulder which at times wasn’t possible. I often had to stop and wait for a gap in traffic and then cycle quickly through sections that had no shoulder.

Eventually, a friendly guy stopped and offered me a lift, saying that this section is too dangerous to cycle and anyway, it’s far too hot. I didn’t argue. He even offered to let me stay at his place that night and take me into Manzini the following day. I should have accepted but I really wanted to try to get to my planned destination of Lobamba today as I was very short on time, needing to get home for Christmas.

As we drove he asked if I had seen any other cyclists in Swaziland and after thinking, I said no. He said that’s because nobody cycles here and as a result, the drivers probably don’t think to look out for cyclists. There aren’t even any scooters or motorbikes, so he makes a good point. He told me I was the only cyclist he had ever seen in all his time in Swaziland… and that I’m definitely crazy.

He took me about 10 km’s over the final huge rise into Manzini and went out of his way to drop me on the other side of town so I was closer to Lobamba. I thanked him profusely, gave him the address of this blog, and then headed off to find somewhere with wifi to have lunch and do some work.

The nearby KFC didn’t have wifi so I cycled a bit further and found a bar called Saltees. Although it showed up as having wifi on my phone, none of the staff knew the password. I stayed for one beer anyway and spoke to my waitress about my trip. Again, as with everyone, she struggled to believe me and told me I was crazy. She kindly helped me out by calling a nearby backpackers, Sondzela, to see if they had camping space and wifi – both of which they said they had.

I continued on in an effort to get to Sondzela but stopped along the way at a small, touristy looking restaurant since I was now starving. I ate a bacon and avo salad, drank two much-needed cold beers and since they had wifi, got some work done. Eventually, at around 5pm, I headed off on the last 3kms to Sondzela. However, upon arrival, the gate staff told me I can’t use that entrance unless I have a pre-booking. They said apparently there is another entrance around the other side, 10km’s away, that I must use!

I told them it’s getting dark and I don’t have lights (although I do) but they wouldn’t listen and sent me on my way. I couldn’t believe the stupidity of it – Sondzela was right there but I must cycle around to another entrance for no reason? Needless to say, I wasn’t going to give them my business and won’t be recommending Sondzela to anyone. The most annoying part is that the route I took is the only route that Google Maps shows to get to Sondzela – the route they described doesn’t appear anywhere on the map that I could see.

Fortunately, my friend had just told me about another decent backpackers called Legends that she stayed at previously but was a fair distance away. I had no choice but to push on through and luckily it was mostly flat until the last few hundred metres, so I arrived before dark.

The backpackers offered camping for R100 ($6) so I checked in and set up my tent in their very decent, shaded campgrounds. I cooled off in the pool for a bit and then grabbed dinner and few beers from the nearby store before heading to bed, exhausted.

Day 8: White water rafting

After checking some maps, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to cycle through the mountainous regions of Swaziland and still make it back to my family home in South Africa in time for Christmas.

Since I was now in a relatively popular tourist area, it would be one of the few places I could potentially catch a bus from over the worst of the mountains and back into South Africa, so I decided to do that.

It was unfortunate because the mountains look lovely and I’m sure there are some amazing cycling routes, but the time of year was also not ideal – with high temperatures and flash storms. I chose to spend a day exploring Lobamba before heading off and resolved to return to Swaziland to explore further when I had more time.

I firstly arranged for a bus to take me and my bicycle to the nearby town of Nelspruit the following day, and then decided to do a half-day white water rafting trip.

The trip was decent and well organized although surprisingly short considering the R1,000 cost ($70). We only did four rapids, of which only one could really be considered a graded rapid (3+). The first two ‘rapids’ were essentially just fast flowing water and the second just a sluice down a weir.

We then reached the final rapid which was impressively big and my
paddling companion and I were thrown out of our raft, with me smashing my elbow into a rock fairly hard. Despite the pain, I was glad to have had the opportunity to face a rapid that was an actual challenge.

Afterward, we had lunch and beer provided by the tour group on the riverside and then headed back to the town. As an introductory taster course, it’s probably acceptable and the drinks at the end were a nice addition, but I still felt it was a bit over-priced for what it was.

Cycling Africa – Days 1-5: South Africa

Day 1: Mtunzini to St Lucia

I awake at 4am in the campsite in Mtunzini. I’m camping alone and nobody else is up at this time but the sun is rising and its light enough to see. I use the campsite ablutions and then slowly begin to pack up my stuff. I see no point in showering as I’ll be covered in sweat again by 6am.

I sort all my bike stuff out as best I can and strap it all on in various ways, take one last swig of last nights whiskey and head off into the slowly brightening day. I would like to cycle the N2 freeway to St Lucia as it’s the most direct route but there is a toll-booth coming on from the Mtunzini on-ramp and I’m uncertain they will allow me through. I choose to cycle through with confidence as if I do it every day and nobody appears to notice, although after about 50 metres I hear a muffled shout – oops, too late.

Technically, cycling on the freeway is illegal but I’ve been informed by some people on cycle forums that police are unlikely to pay any attention to you unless it’s within a city. I forge on fearlessly, 18-wheeler trucks zooming past within inches as the road’s shoulder varies in width from a few metres to a few centimetres.

There are lots of roadworks on this section of road so I spend the next two hours squeezing between construction barriers and piles of sand. Eventually, a newly-paved but as yet unutilized road appears on my left, so I take the chance and begin cycling on it, hoping my tyres won’t sink into the tar at any point. I pass a few workers and construction vehicles and nobody seems to mind so I continue, enjoying an entire four-lane highway to myself. Unfortunately, my luck runs out eventually and the tar road turns to unpaved gravel. I decide to test cycling in the stormage drain, which works fairly well but at various intervals, it disappears and I need to rejoin the crazy traffic.

By 8 am I reach a service station with a Wimpy and decide to stop for breakfast. For safety, I hoist my bicycle over the fencing of the outdoor seating area of the Wimpy so I can keep an eye on it from inside. Upon entering, I see a man wearing an official-looking shirt step outside and eye my bike. I ask him if it’s okay that its there, thinking him to be a manager, but it turns out he’s just a customer admiring my bike. A cyclist himself, he offers to buy me breakfast and we take a table together. It turns out he’s a land surveyor heading along the same route as me and even offers to give me a lift but I decline, explaining that it would defeat the object.

We get chatting about cycling and it turns out he’s good friends with a cycling blogger I follow called Blonde on a Bike – a woman named Bridget whom, he informs me, is, in fact, South African and lives in the nearby town of Howick. We eat together and I tell him of my plans, show him my blog and we swap Facebook contact details. I stupidly ordered a second coffee, thinking Wimpy still do free refills, and ended up costing him a bit more on breakfast than he expected. Kindly, he still refuses my offer to split the bill.

We go our separate ways and I fill up my water container before heading back out on to the road. The next section is far quieter, once I pass Richard’s Bay, and the road becomes a simple, dual lane bi-directional road with a very wide, comfortable shoulder. This is a big industrial logging area, lined with endless rows of tall gum trees and a never-ending stream of huge, logging trucks zooming past to collect the days wood. I still cycle in the stormage drain whenever I can just for added safety but it mostly feels like a nice country road out here.

As the day wears on, the heat increases exponentially and I begin to run low on water. Checking my map, I can see that there is a turn off slightly earlier than my intended turn off that weaves past a lake. I decide to get off the freeway here and hope to find somewhere to get water, if not from the lake as a last resort. I cycle on down a deserted road through what appears to be conservation area and eventually stop at a small guest house that advertises a stall. I don’t have any cash to buy water and tragically, their pump is not working. The guy also informs me that the only route to the lake is down a steep, dirt road – something I’ll undoubtedly struggle to get back.

I discard the lake plans and check Google maps. There appears to be a small safari resort up ahead and down a side road, so I head in that direction. It takes me along a very bumpy, sandy dirt road and I have to push my bike at sections, but I eventually arrive. There is nobody around but one of the farm hands point me towards a tap. I’m sure it’s borehole water and can’t be certain its potable but at this point I’ll take what I can get. I fill up and relax in the shade of a tree for a bit before heading back out.

It’s peak sun now at midday and I have to continue along a horrible, bumpy dirt road for a few kilometres before the tar starts again. On reflection, I should have just stayed on the freeway until my turn off – now I’m stuck in rural farmland. Just before I reach the tarred section a local guy on an old, rickety bicycle passes me and I decide I really need to up my game, so I start pedaling hard. Unfortunately, this shakes my bag free from my pannier and it crashes off on to the ground. Luckily, none of my stuff is broken, especially my laptop. I try to strap it on a bit tighter but I’m missing a bungee cord so it’s not very stable.

Eventually, after one more rest stop, I reach the tar road and plan to stop for lunch and a much-needed rest at the Spur steak restaurant in a nearby town a few kilometres ahead. I reach the Spur a sweaty mess and they kindly let me keep my bicycle safely inside the door while I eat. I decide its a good opportunity to do some work and fortunately, their WiFi is working for once. I order the cheapest thing on the menu, a chicken mayo sandwich, and get to it.

After two hours of work and copious glasses of water, I feel I’m rested enough for the last 30 kilometres to St Lucia. I figure it should only take two hours at most but little do I realise there is an endless stream of rolling hills between here and the coast. Despite my rest and feet, my legs are still broken and I’m pretty much drained of energy. More so, with each kilometre I head away from the freeway and towards the coast I become increasingly aware that I have to do this all again tomorrow in reverse. I figure I’ve come all this way, though, and it would be sad to miss out on St Lucia.

Eventually, after what seems like a hundred hills, I arrive in the small town of St Lucia and head towards a backpackers my friend has told me about. Unfortunately, they inform me they don’t have WiFi because there is a problem with the Internet across the entire town. I figure since I can’t work anyway I’ll just camp somewhere cheap and head back to the Spur in the morning for breakfast and work there. They direct me to another backpackers down the road that offers camping for R100 ($7).

When I arrive at the backpackers, the camping section is under construction so they kindly offer me a bed in a dorm for the same price. It’s only a two-bed dorm and nobody else is there so I basically get my own private room for R100. The backpackers looks like it recently burnt down and so facilities aren’t great as most things are in various stages of reconstruction. I don’t mind though as I’m so tired I feel ready to go straight to sleep. I decide to have a brief look around town, quickly grab some food and then head to bed.

On my wanders, I come across a seafood restaurant that has half-price sushi on Wednesday nights. Despite it still being out of my budget, I can’t turn down a sushi special and there doesn’t appear to be much else in the town so I eat three small plates of various sushi rolls and drink two beers. Around about 8pm I walk back to the backpackers and fall asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Day 2: St Lucia

I decide to spend day 2 relaxing my legs after a hard first day. After getting to sleep at 8pm, I awake very early and have a coffee while doing some work. I then head off to Wimpy for breakfast and to try find some Wifi, but unfortunately, theirs isn’t working either. Instead, I just write content for some blogs I’ve been meaning to do while eating bacon, eggs and chips with tea – like a true Brit.

Eventually, I discover an internet cafe with a semi-decent connection and get the majority of the rest of my work done. I then head back to the hostel to check out and get my stuff. After a bit of deliberation, I decid to check into Monzi Safari’s backpackers rather than cycle far out of town to the caravan park. It’s a bit more pricey than I would normally do, at R220, but turns out to be a good choice.

Monzi’s has an incredible setup, with two lush swimming pools surrounded by beautiful, shaded loungers and well-equipped kitchen and BBQ area. They also do a free, albeit small, breakfast and allow guests to bring in their own alcohol – even offering fridge space!

I grab some much-needed supplies from the nearby shops, including bungee cords, a new cooking pot, bicycle lube and a knife for protection. I also grabb a six pack of beer and then spend lunch relaxing by the pool drinking for a few hours.

In the early afternoon I decide to use my spare time wisely and explore the surrounding beach area on my bike. I cycle down to the coast and investigate a few beaches, encountering some guys who have gotten their 4×4 stuck in the sand and then promptly driven into a tree. I offer to try tow them with my bicycle but they just glance at me and then get back to the car.

I then head south towards the Boat Club which takes me along a 4×4 only road that crosses a section of the beach. Despite my best 4×4 cycling efforts, I have to push my bike for a bit but am rewarded by an awesome wooden path through a nature reserve in the St Lucia estuary.

Coming out the other side, I discover the Boat Club where I chill for a bit and have a beer with a plate of chili poppers and test whether I can work purely from my phone. Turns out it’s not too hard.

I then head back to the backpackers for one last chill session and a few more beers by the pool. There doesn’t seem to much happening at the backpackers or in town so I decide to get an early night. Just before bed I receive a message from a friend warning of a potential riot blocking the route I need to take tomorrow. If the riot happens, I not only might not be able to get to my destination but could get caught up in the violence.

I decide to sleep on it and see if I can get more information in the morning.

Day 3: St Lucia

I awake at 6am and have an early breakfast, still uncertain about whether I should risk the ride into a potential riot. I’m not too concerned with actually getting caught up in the riot, just that it’s 30km to the N2 highway and if I get stopped by traffic police there then I will just have to cycle all the way back. I don’t really have time to wait a few hours for the protests to be over otherwise I won’t make my next stop before dark.

Eventually, I decide to wait it out one more day, which is unfortunate as I’m already a day behind and want to spend the weekend in Swaziland. Now, I’ll be lucky to get there by Monday, which means I might miss a day or two of work – money I can hardly do without. Unfortunately, with cycle touring it’s best not to plan to be somewhere on a specific date as you will almost certainly be late.

Fortunately, Monzi backpackers is lovely so I’m not too upset. I spend the morning getting as much work done as I can and then cycle out to explore the Cape Vidal nature reserve. Upon arrival at the gate the woman guarding says I can go in with a bicycle, however, she fails to mention that about 500m down the road there is another fence that clearly states “no bicycles allowed” and has a picture of lions, elephants, hippos and leopards. This gate isn’t manned or closed though, it just has one of those grids that animals can’t walk over, so I figure if there really are lions in here they would certainly have better security.

I cycle in a short way and briefly consider just ignoring the sign but in the end I chicken out, not wanting to be that idiot cyclist who gets eaten by a lion on the third day of his trip.
I cycle around the part of the park that isn’t fenced off along some pretty hairy sand roads and see some zebra and impala. Then I take a side road and discover a horse riding school with a pen full of beautifully kept horses.

By now it’s hot and lunch is calling, so I head back and decide to have a braai (BBQ) and see if any guests would like to join in. I buy some meat, beer and wood and head back, only to be told by the staff I can’t make a wood fire. Luckily, somebody has left some charcoal, so I make a small fire and begin to cook my food. Nobody is around to join, though, so I eat and drink alone and have enough leftover for dinner and possibly even breakfast tomorrow.

Then I just spend the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool, drinking beer and doing a bit more work. I also finish my long overdue blog about sailing Australia. Although there are a few people hanging about the hostel, it’s mostly couples, unlike in South East Asia where most people are single and traveling solo or in a friends group. As a result, I don’t see any opportunities to link up with a group to go out with and decide to just watch a movie on the communal TV and get to bed early.

Day 4: St Lucia to Hluhluwe

Finally, it’s time to head off, so I awake early, pack my stuff and grab some breakfast. I’m done and on the road by 8:30 am.

Things begin fairly well, even though I have to cycle out along the same rolling hills I had come in on. Fortunately, I don’t have the headwind this time and with fresh legs, it takes half the amount of time it took coming in.

I fill up my water at a gas station just before the turnoff to the N2 and chat to the security guard who can’t believe that I live in a tent and am cycling to Tanzania. He says I’m crazy. I agree.

Once I get on the N2, the cursed headwinds return and for the next two hours I fight into them, moving about 5 km an hour up and down hills. Eventually, they recede somewhat and I manage to pick up the pace a bit.

After about 30km, I reach a fairly populated area that goes on for miles and has a wide sidewalk away from the street. This makes for an awesome cycle path and I ride along it for hours saying hi to all the locals I pass. They have little stalls selling pineapples and tea which remind me a lot of India but don’t have any cash on me so can’t buy anything.

Eventually, at around 1pm I arrive at a service station just outside Hluhluwe. I stop for lunch and have a nice discussion with a woman who is a tour guide in the area and kindly offers me some good advice about the hilly areas and where to stay in Swaziland. After a burger and coke, I refill my water and head off to do the last 6km to Bahati campsite. This takes me along a fairly bumpy dirt road which isn’t too bad but when I eventually arrive at the campsite, it looks closed. I decide to try continue on to a backpackers I can see on Google Maps called Bushbaby – closer to the centre of town. Unfortunately, after 4 more kilometres of bumpy dirt road, I reach a very deserted, rundown town and a sign for Bushbaby pointing back the way I have come!

Annoyed, I cycle back and ask some guys in a truck if they know where it is. We get into a discussion of my travels and again they can’t believe what I ‘m doing. The one guy even says “you are lying, you could not have cycled from St Lucia”. Haha, it’s not even that far!

Eventually, unable to find Bushbaby I ring the number of Bahati and a women answers. She asks my name and then opens the gate remotely to let me in, describing how to get to the campsite. It must be low season as the entire game reserve and campsite is completely deserted. I cycle past some impala on the way in and then set up my tent and go for a swim in the swimming pool.

For dinner, I try to make spaghetti with a tin of onion and tomato, only to realize that I don’t have a tin opener and have to settle for spaghetti and cup-a-soup. It begins to sound like a storm is coming so I move my tent under a steel cover and spend some time updating my blogs before heading off to bed.

Day 5: Entering Swaziland

I struggle to sleep because I’m camped on a concrete floor under the steel roof, so I awake a bit later than planned at about 4:30am and, after packing up, only get on the road just before six.

I get warmed up along the dirt road out of Hluhluwe and am greeted by local workers as they walk to the game reserves and farms. I reach the N2 fairly quickly and then pick up the pace, enjoying the wide shoulder and lack of headwind for once.

I am passed by the occasional truck and car along this section but otherwise, the traffic is fairly quiet. Eventually, after about two hours of straight roads and minor hills, I reach a slightly more built-up area that has a number of villages along the roadside. To avoid pedestrians walking in the street the council have built a smooth, wide pavement separate from the road that goes on for miles.

Since it isn’t too busy with pedestrians I decide to cycle along this. It gives the advantage of being away from traffic as well as putting me closer to the villages and locals, all of whom wave enthusiastically and shout “hello” or “sawubona” as I pass.

I stop around 10am at a service station in Mkuze and eat a ham and mushroom pizza for breakfast along with a coffee. Then I stock up on water and snacks, since this is the last stop for the next 50km’s or so to Pongola nature reserve where the Swaziland border post is.

After leaving Mkuze, traffic thins out drastically and I sometimes don’t see a vehicle for up to ten minutes at a time. Again the road is straight and long with occasional small hills until I get near to the border. Then it starts to climb steadily and doesn’t let up for a long while. After about an hour climbing I come over a ridge into a mountainous valley with beautiful, twisting roads snaking along the cliffside.

After a brief and thrilling downhill run, I have to climb again for another half an hour or so out of the valley and over the next pass. Fortunately, this is the last one and as I reach the bottom I stop on a bridge to rest and take photos.

It is scorching hot by now but I only have a few kilometres to go until the border so I figure I should get there by 2pm. I don’t account for one final, long climb after the turn off to the border. I’m so hot I can’t make it up the hill so I stop in the shade of a tree and almost finish my water while desperately trying to cool down.

I rest for half an hour before struggling over the last bit of the rise and coasting down into the nature reserve below. I fly over the animal grate and shoot into the park at full speed, noticing a number of impala and kudu skittering away on the roadside.

I arrive quite soon at the border post, which is tiny and deserted, so within minutes I have my passport stamped and leave South Africa. On the way out the security guard is very interested in my trip and chats to me for awhile. At first I think he is suspicious but he turns out to just be curious, tells me I’m crazy, and sends me on my way.

Goon With The Wind: Two Weeks Sailing in Australia

(with acknowledgment to Margaret Mitchell)

I’m in a Dan Murphy’s bottle store near Harbour Town in Australia’s Gold Coast region, just south of Brisbane. It’s brightly lit and cavernous, with row after row of wine, beer, spirits and any booze you could want. Tomorrow, I will join legendary New Zealand powerboat racer Jim Harris on his 42-foot catamaran for a two-week trip sailing in Australian along the east coast.

How do you stock up on enough booze for two weeks on a boat? In my mind, I imagine there may be many long hours with little else to do but drink.

Australia has the answer: Goon.

For as little as 10 Aussie dollars (£7.50) you can get five liters of questionable quality wine, all nicely and securely backed into an aluminum sack safely guarded by a cardboard box. It may not be Châteauneuf de Pap, but at least you can use the bag as a flotation device when you’re drowning.

Make no mistake – this is no South African ‘papsak’, or American ‘box-wine’, no siree – this is GOON. It’s an Aussie past time, a part of their culture. It may as well be on the friggin’ flag.

I buy two, just to be sure.

With the goon and I ready to go, I pack my life into a backpack and prepare for the morning departure.


Day 1

We depart around lunch time, pop open a few beers and sail up the waterways that surround Brisbane. On route, we stop at a services marina to get fuel and water. I learn my first bit of sailing skills – tying a knot off on a jetty pier – it’s a simple case of looping the rope under itself so it pulls itself tight.

That evening we anchor in a small protected bay, still within the Brisbane waterways, and have the first of many drunken dinners on the boat.


Day 2

I awake early due to my bed being located directly over the generator, which needs to be on almost constantly due to a problem with the batteries. By the time I crawl out of my bed we’re already moving and we have breakfast on the go. Throughout the day we gradually make our way out of the Brisbane shipping channel as massive container ships pass us and eventually break into the open sea in the afternoon.

We need to sail throughout the night for the next few days due to there being nowhere to anchor until Lady Musgrave Island, a few hundred clicks north. This means the two skippers need to take turns sailing through the night and we need to take turns keeping them company.

I opt to do the morning shift, so after dinner and a few glasses of goon, I get an early nights sleep. I awake at 3 am feeling relatively good, considering, and join second-in-command Rodney at the helm. It’s utterly pitch black and we sail by radar only, hoping there is nothing large floating out here in the ocean. I stroll out on deck briefly but the wind is howling and I can’t see a thing – if I were to fall overboard nobody would hear me scream.

As 4 am rolls around the sky slowly begins to brighten and I can ever so slightly see shimmering reflections off the waves. The sky morphs from dull yellow into bright orange and red and for the first time, I can see the horizon all around us and no land in sight. We are alone in the ocean and at its mercy – a new experience for me.



Day 3

Rodney heads to bed soon after daybreak and Captain Jim takes over. I make us coffee and begin to prepare breakfast as the rest of the crew stirs. The 4-berth boat has a tiny kitchen that is well equipped – with two gas cookers, a small oven, fridge, and a microwave. There is also a separate freezer to keep meat and other perishables. As we bob from side to side, I try to maintain my balance and successfully whip up some eggs and bacon for everyone.

We sail throughout the day, taking turns at the helm, and Jim teaches me a bit about fishing. He keeps two fishing rods permanently cast out the back of the boat and we need to listen for the sound of the reel in case of a catch. Presently, one of the rods start unraveling and Jim calls me to grab it and shows me how to reel it in. As I’m pulling in a small tuna, a shark leaps out the water directly over my line, trying to steal my catch! I manage to pull it in though and get a further lesson in skinning and gutting it.

By early afternoon we begin drinking, for lack of any other activity, and by early evening I’m ready for bed. After a quick dinner, I opt to wake at 3 am again and head off to sleep.


Day 4

When I awake this time, Jim is behind the wheel. We have some coffee and he teaches me how to read the instruments and navigate the boat. As before, we sail on blindly into darkness putting our trust in the radar. Just before the sun begins to rise, Jim heads off for much-needed rest and leaves me to navigate alone. Fortunately, the boat has auto-pilot so navigating mostly just means keeping an eye on the controls and the horizon.


Soon after Jim leaves, I hear one of the fishing reels unraveling. The cartridge the line coils around makes a loud whirring noise as a fish yanks it out to sea. With no time to wake Jim, I grab the reel and start cranking the handle like mad, pulling in what feels like a whale. Eventually, I get the fish close enough for a good look – it’s a small tuna. I reel it in anyway and attempt to get the hook out its mouth but just as I do so it flops right out my hands and back into the ocean. The one that got away!

A short while later the crew awakens and I regale them with the story of how I lost our dinner, which is met with skepticism at best. We eat breakfast and continue to sail throughout the morning until we reach our first stop of the trip, Lady Musgrave Island.

Lady Musgrave Island is a tiny atoll off the coast of Bundaberg with a large, enclosed coral reef and a small circular island around 1000 metres in circumference. A narrow entrance has been cleared through the coral so that boats can enter and anchor within the reef. We carefully navigate in and find an available buoy to tie up to before lowering the small coastal access boat (called a tender). We all squeeze in and begin chugging off to explore the tiny island.

The island is host to a small diving campsite, a selection of birds and a bizarre amount of sea slugs crawling in and out of the coral. We cross from one end of the island to the campsite in a few minutes and then walk around the circumference back to the boat, exploring a curious lookout point along the way that reminded me of that old HBO show Lost, about the mysterious deserted island.

On returning to the yacht we decide we should set off again and sail through to the Percy Isles where we will anchor for the night. We set off in a northwesterly direction and with autopilot guiding us, settle into a lengthy, boozy lunch. Upon arrival, we dock in a calm, secluded bay just off the Percy Isles and have a relaxing night on the boat.


Day 5

We head around to the main Percy Island in the early morning and dock offshore from the entrance to the lagoon. After breakfast on the boat, we jump in the tender and head to shore. The main island in the Percy Isles features an amazing, decades-old wooden A-frame structure built on the beach which is a popular stopping point for boaties sailing in Australia.

The entire structure is covered inside and out with the names of sailors, their boats and the dates they came to shore – inscribed on whatever bit of driftwood or material that was available at the time. Some of the oldest ones date back as much as 50 years! We explore the A-frame for a few minutes and then begin the two-hour walk inland to visit the 100-year old homestead built high up in the centre of the island by early settlers.

The walk takes us up a relatively steep incline through thick forest before breaking out into a stunning view across to South Percy island. We arrive at the homestead and are greeted by a collection of goats and peacocks. The current occupier welcomes us in and offers us some lemonade which we graciously accept and provide him with a gift in the form of a bottle of wine – something that is, no doubt, hard to come by out here.

After a brief chat about the history of the island, we say our thanks and begin the walk back down along a slightly different route. As we descend, I see a number of small snakes or similar creatures scurry off the path into the bushes. The end of the path takes us to a small inlet that hosts a boathouse and jetty but since its low tide, the entire thing is dry. A few sailboats sit propped-up on the seabed looking like bizarre shipwrecks that somehow didn’t fall over.

Once back I decide to get some exercise and swim back to the boat, which proves to be easier than I expected. I then get a beer and kayak back to the shore to enjoy it in the A-frame before boarding and preparing to head off through the night to our next destination.  

Day 6

We sail through the night again and I join Captain Jim in the early morning as the sun begins to rise. Suddenly the reel starts spinning on one of the fishing rods and I jump up to pull in whatever catch we have. Jim stops the motor so it’s easier to pull in the reel but as a result, the boat begins to turn slightly with the wind. This causes the fishing reel to drift sideways and get caught up in the propellers of the wind generator, which sits high up on a pole at the back of the boat. We watch helplessly as the line coils around the propeller and grinds the entire thing to a halt.

Seeing no other option, Jim climbs up and begins trying to unravel the tangled line while I hang on loosely to the remaining line, the fish having now escaped. While I’m busy pulling in the remaining line to retrieve the tackle, Jim manages to free the tangled line. However, this causes the propeller to spin up again and smash him in the head, inflicting a huge, bloody gash above his eye. He falls on to the deck grasping his head and stumbles off towards the kitchen swearing, but I’m unable to help as I have both hands gripping the remaining line. While frantically trying to get the line reeled in I shout after him to ask if he’s okay but he returns momentarily clutching a wad of tissue paper to his head and swearing like only a sea captain can.

Having sailed once more throughout the night and most of the day, we anchor at lunch time just offshore from another small, uninhabited island. The entire coastline around here is dotted with small islands with varying degrees of habitation, although many are in protected conservation areas and don’t allow any construction. We briefly explore the small beach and I attempt to discover the source of some rustling in the nearby bushes, but to no avail.

The cliffs overlooking the beach appear to be inhabited by some kind of small bird that makes a bizarre sound, almost like a laser gun from an old 90’s computer game. Although we can constantly hear them we never manage to actually see one. Eventually, we retire to the boat for a beer. Since we are anchoring here for the night we can all happily get drunk without anyone having to stay sober to drive.

Day 7

We arrive at Mackay Harbour very early in the morning, before the marina is even open, and have breakfast on the boat while waiting to refuel and get a mooring. Once settled we head out to restock on basic supplies like food and goon. Once in town, I find a Red Rooster with Wi-Fi and get some much-needed work done while eating somewhat dry chicken and chips.

Then we hit the bottle store, stock up on beer, whiskey and wine and head back to the boat. We spend a pleasant night in the marina wining and dining in style on quality fresh goon and the spotted mackerel Jim caught the previous night while he entertains us with tall-tales of his years sailing in Australia.


Day 8

As soon as the tide is right the next morning, we head out of the marina and set sail north for the Whitsunday islands. We set course for Whitehaven beach, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Upon arriving we tender to the shore and take a walk down the beach amongst the throngs of tourists. It feels odd to be around crowds of people again after a week of almost complete solitude on the open ocean.

We then continue on to a small inlet where we moor for the night. Apparently, there is a path over the island that takes us to a beautiful viewpoint of Whitehaven estuary but the tide is so low now that we are unable to get the tender to shore. We decide to try again in the morning and settle in for a night of goon, whiskey and loud power ballads, no doubt annoying the surrounding boaties.


Day 9

After a rather hungover breakfast and copious amounts of coffee, we splutter to shore in the little boat and begin the hike over the island. It’s quite busy as a few day trippers have arrived in the morning and chosen to do the same. It’s a lovely walk though and the view is totally worth it, the ocean appearing a spectacular aqua colour from the increased vantage point. We take several photos from the various viewing platforms and then head back.

On the way to the boat, Jim spots a friend and they chat about where the best spots for snorkelling are and he tells us about some giant sea turtles he saw that morning in the nearby river that comes into the bay. We head off to explore and although we see the occasional head, the water is a bit too murky by now to get any good photographs underwater.

We reboard the yacht and head off to another small bay where we explore some old aboriginal caves and then watch dolphins swim around the boat after the sun sets.


Day 10

Today we head off to Airlie to do some shopping and explore the town.  We moor in a bay around the headland from Airlie and catch a bus into town while Jim stays aboard with Rodney to do some repairs on the engine. I need to get some work done, so after a rather lame McDonalds lunch, I chill at the famous Magnums pub while the others go shopping for more goon.

Back on the boat, we decide to head to Hamilton Island where Jim’s wife, Carlene (who came up with the fabulous name for this article), is flying in to meet us. We dock in the exceptionally posh harbour and I proceed to stink the place out because I need the toilet and don’t realise the valves underneath the boat are still open. Fortunately, we don’t get evicted, yet, but I feel sorry for any fish in that harbour. Goon does weird things to your digestive system.

That evening we hire golf carts (standard transport apparently) and head up to one of the highest points on Hamilton Island with spectacular 360 views around the entire collection of isles. There is a band playing old pop covers and a bar serving some kind of pink lemonade cocktail. It’s all very congenial in comparison to the time we have spent at sea drinking cheap bourbon and box wine. After a mind-blowing sunset, we head back down to have dinner on the boat and apologize to the goon for cheating on it.

Day 11

After doing some much-needed washing and a spot of shopping, we explore the island a little further before returning the golf carts and preparing to head out again. This time we are on a mission to find some good snorkeling spots and head off to Haselwood Island, which Jim’s friend has recommended.

Unfortunately, the swell on the main reef is very choppy so we have to moor around the corner in a smaller bay and wait for the wind to die. Luckily we manage to find a fairly decent section of reef along the coastline of the bay and got some good snorkeling in there just before the sun begins to set.

Day 12

The following day we attempt Haselwood bay again but are unable to anchor successfully, so head off to Butterfly bay, which is a popular snorkeling spot. Despite the popularity of it, I find it to be murkier and with less impressive reef than the previous bay. We do manage to spot a few giant sea turtles though before heading back to anchor in the calm waters of the small inlet where we explored the aboriginal caves.

I decide to kayak around another small inlet I had seen earlier to explore for more reefs and discover a beautiful, calm little bay protected from the wind. No reef though but some interesting birds flying about.  We enjoy a final, boozy night on the boat, chilling with cockatoos, polishing off the remaining goon and reminiscing on the past two weeks.

How to Travel Indefinitely

How long your traveling lasts and how much it costs depends fully on your travel style.  I traveled over the course of a year with just under $9,000 hitting 12 countries. If you’re looking for ways to stay in luxurious hotels and fine dining on your journey, this isn’t the post for you. Here’s the best way to travel on a tight budget to guarantee a long-lasting adventure.


Volunteer programs

There are a lot of volunteer programs all over the world that offer free room and board in exchange for your help for ‘X’ amount of days, weeks, months or even years. Not only do you get free accommodation and meals, but you also get an amazing experience with organic farms, Italian vineyards, yachts, teaching abroad, meditation retreats, jungle tree-houses, and the list goes on and on. Here’s a list of a few that you should check out:

Workaway

This is a great, easy-to-use site that you can sign up for that guarantees amazing experience all over the world. All you have to do is:

  1. Pay $25 for one year in order to sign up
  2. Set up your profile
  3. Select the place you want to go

And in three easy steps, you are good to go!

Because of Workaway, I volunteered in the hills of Wales to help take care of a beautiful pack of professionally trained malamutes (1 month/-80 pounds). I helped a screenwriter/novelist bring her garden back to life in Belgium and she even paid me if I put it in extra hours (1 month/+50 Euros), and I taught English in Vietnam (2 months/+$200) They provided me with a motorbike, clinic runs and gave me a single, private room. This was a huge money saver and a great experience.

Tip: Send out a lot of personalized requests, don’t copy/paste. Sometimes I had to send out quite a few messages to get a score, but I always scored nonetheless. Also, when you fly into certain countries, check out their visa requirements.

WWOOF

This stands for “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms”.

WWOOFing is available in 53 countries, and how long you volunteer is entirely up to you and the host.

WWOOF, unlike Workaway and HelpX, focuses more on sustainable living through a variety of different farms you can choose from, depending on your preference.

In exchange for a day’s work, you get free room and board, and depending on the arrangements you made, you can stay for a week, to a month or even an entire season.

HelpX

HelpX is a similar setup to Workaway, volunteering free room and board in exchange for your volunteering, and you can choose from many different areas. Most hosts have accounts on both websites, so I’d suggest just signing up for one to save more of that tight budget of yours. If you’re not sure which one to sign up for, no worries! Workaway and HelpX both allow you to search through their host database for free, so you can see which one you prefer and then go on about your business.


Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing isn’t a volunteer program, but it’s an amazing way to stay with a local for a couple nights, possibly make a friend and experience the area in a much more authentic flavor.

Couchsurfing is a site where you type the place you’re looking to go, hosts pop up, read their profile and send them a message. No volunteering, just a simple concept of integration and genuine people loving the idea of meeting and sharing stories!

And it’s not sketchy. Each host gets reviewed and rated by the people that visit, so you know if they’re a good fit or not. And as a couch surfer, you get reviewed and rated too!

The cool thing about couch surfing is you can do last minute requests in case something goes off plan (saved me tons), you can use the app to see other backpackers that are close-by, they have events near wherever you are posted on their website/app so you can mingle with like-minded people. It’s great, free and I’ve made some serious connections this way. I stayed in Turkey with an amazing group of college students for over 2 weeks. I can come back anytime!

Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is a good option for those out of university and aren’t sure what to do next or somebody who wants to quit their job to travel but just isn’t sure how to afford it.

This is a more long-term commitment and most volunteer opportunities require college degrees, work experience, and a resume. It’s a little bit more competitive but definitely doable and no more than applying for a job. (Each volunteer program have different prerequisites, go to their website to see what you’ll need)

However, this is a beautiful way to travel around the world, make a difference and help out the communities that need it. They take care of your accommodation and your meals with some other benefits, and if you commit 1-2 years to the peace corps, they reimburse you $8,000 for your time to help you get settled whenever you return home.


Networking

This is pretty huge if you’re trying to travel with a tight budget. This little concept allowed me to jump through 4 European countries without paying anything for accommodation, and I made great friends.

Networking is simply just putting yourself out there and meeting amazing people. If it’s your first time traveling and you’re doing it alone, don’t be afraid to talk to other backpackers, locals or anybody else for that matter. I flew out by myself, but the entire year I was never alone. Backpackers always integrate and join plans, so don’t plan your trip down to the T, you have to leave room for the unexpected.

I can’t tell you how many times I would go out, see an interesting crew and start chatting. Before I knew it, I’m ditching my old plans of doing this or that and then we’d all start on a little journey together for a couple weeks.

I met people from all over SE Asia and the UK that welcomed me to visit anytime, and most travelers have an integrity you can count on, so when it came time for me to go through, I took them up on their word, and it was amazing seeing my old travel buddies in their homestead.

This is a natural process of networking. I wasn’t planning on meeting them, I wasn’t planning on going to Turkey, Austria, Germany or Holland, Wales or the UK for as long as I did, but because of what always happens on an adventure- the unexpected- I was able to extend my trip much longer because of the lovely friends I made.

“You have friends everywhere, you just haven’t met them yet.


Hitch-hiking

There’s a lot of stigma around this travel method, but it’s a great experience and it gets you far without any expense.

I hitchhiked with a few people I met through- ahem, networking – and we went from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, Vientiane to the 4,000 Islands. We then hitch-hiked across the Cambodian border to Siem Reap, from Siem Reap we hitched it down to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Otres Beach. From Otres beach we had to take the bus to get back through the Thai border to Bangkok. From Bangkok, we hitch-hiked to Krabi.

We hitch-hiked around 3,000 KM and didn’t spend a dime on transport (except the one time we had to take the bus). We had no issues, no problems. There were 3 of us, and we still got picked up. You can see my “Hitch-hiking through SE Asia” post here to know more.


Camping

This is a method I definitely wouldn’t recommend unless you’re really wanting to extend your trip for as long as possible, which we did.

By “camping”, I don’t mean paying for a campsite, because campsites can be pretty pricey depending on where you’re at. This is an unorthodox method my friend and I used quite a bit out in Europe.

I suppose I’m sharing this method because I want to share just how “rough” you can rough it if you’re a bit of a nutter like me and don’t mind coloring outside the lines in order to extend your journey.

So basically, we had a tent, and we would pitch it in areas that were kind of off the radar. It is illegal to pitch tents outside of a camping zone in most European countries, but when you travel on a tight budget, survival mode kicks in and you do what you need to do. We made sure we were out of the way, respectful towards the land and out of there by early morning. Sometimes, however, we weren’t out of the way enough and would get waken up by a park ranger of the sort. We didn’t get in any trouble, just asked to pick up and get. It did feel strange to feel like a lawbreaker just for trying to get a place to sleep outside of paying for a hotel.  It’s an interesting controversial topic.

However, there are areas where they implemented a “right to roam” which goes as follows:

   “In Scotland, the Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the Central European countries of Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland, the freedom to roam takes the form of general public rights. The freedom to roam, or everyman’s right, is the general public’s right to access certain public or privately owned land for recreation and exercise. The right is sometimes called the right of public access to the wilderness or the right to roam.”

Which basically means, you can pitch a tent without paying for campsites. We did this in Scotland for a few nights until we met some people – there’s that networking again- who welcomed us to stay with them for over 2 weeks.

We took a bus out every night, pitched a tent near a beautiful stream in the woods, which so happened to be equipped with a fire pit, and lived like kings.


Hostels over hotels

This is a strong, strong recommendation. Hotels are expensive and you miss out on so much!

Hostels are convenient, have great deals, and it’s the best way to meet other travelers. Most hostels throw mingle parties, host free events and offer free meals. Just make sure you read reviews on hostels. I never had any issues with bed bugs or anything else, but other people have.

Also, if you want a discount on the room, visit Hostelworld or get their app, pay for the room online and you get can usually land a discount. Another tip, some hostels aren’t on some of the hostel sites. Most of the time we would just arrive in a city, walk around and see what we could find. We found way cheaper hostels this way versus looking through online booking.


Busking

This is a great way to make some pocket change if you can play a little tune – or even if you’re crafty. We traveled with some guitars, opened our case and played casually for a couple of hours. That would usually feed us for the day!

If you can make any type of art, I’d recommend setting up shop somewhere and see what you can catch. Make a little sign explaining your story, that definitely helps.

If you travel on a tight budget, try some of these tips and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll extend your adventure indefinitely.