This was a 3,600 kilometer loop ride which began and ended in Pretoria, South Africa. We began by cycling east over 7,000 foot passes in the Drakenberg Mountain range to Mpumalanga before heading north to cross the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe at Beitbridge. In Zimbabwe we cycled through Shona and Mtabele homeland villages and stopped in the main cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. East of Bulawayo we crossed into Botswana and cycled down the main road to Gabaronne before turning east back to Pretoria.

.Zimbabwe 001(Click to enlarge)

Personal Highlights: As is usually the case in cycle touring, the most memorable moments involve the serendipitous crossing of paths with other people. We remember particularly the Manasa family who provided us sanctuary when we became stranded at dusk in the homelands east of Masvingo.  We also remember Trevor and Norna, Patricia Kule, and the Ropson family – all of whom opened their homes to us and gave us insight into the reality of Zimbabwe and Botswana.  And, of course, we remember the literally thousands of children and adults who greeted us with smiles and waves (and shouts of “Hello! How are you?”) as we cycled down the road.Our encounters with the animals of Africa was often memorable as well. While on foot in Mana Pools National Park we encountered a pride of lions and a lioness charged us. Fortunately, she only meant to scare us (and she was quite successful at that) as she stopped about 30 meters from us and let out a ferocious roar. We also had personal encounters with monkeys as one jumped on our table while we were at a restaurant in Victoria Falls and stole our sugar bowl. Later on that same day we were touring the Falls when a baby monkey jumped on Tom’s leg. The monkey’s mother took exception to the way Tom shook the baby off and there was a tense standoff for a few seconds. The other tourists got a good laugh out of it, but it was a spooky moment. At various times in Zimbabwe and South Africa we had to slow down to avoid confronting troops of baboons crossing the road.

Road conditions: In South Africa the roads were generally wide and in good condition. The terrain was mountainous and there were a number of hard climbs and exhilarating downhills. The traffic near towns and cities could be heavy and it was not uncommon to have cars whiz by at 150 kph. We were on some roads (particularly the routes between Gabaronne and Pretoria) where the traffic was heavy and the shoulder was gravel, so having wide tires was an advantage.

The Zimbabwean roads were good and, except for the entrances and exits to the bigger towns, very safe. The terrain was generally flat or gently rolling hills (although one could take side trips into the mountains in the east). Outside the immediate vicinity of towns traffic was light to non-existent and the drivers were not as maniacal as in South Africa.

The road in Botswana was complete flat and had fairly heavy truck traffic. It was often unpleasant riding because the road was narrow and the pavement was frequently broken up on the edges.

Climate: We were there in the winter (June, July and August) so conditions were cool in South Africa. On a few days early in the trip we had morning and evening temperatures below freezing and on one morning awoke to a tent sagging from a coating of ice. As we continued north it became warmer with daytime temperatures averaging about 30 degrees centigrade by the time we reached Kariba and Victoria Falls. We had a couple of days of hard rain early in the trip, but other than that rain was not a problem.

Dangers: The most frequently asked question in South Africa was “Where do you keep your firearm?” In fact, the consensus opinion was that we must be insane to be cycling in South Africa. We were warned to avoid the townships, which with one exception, we did. That being said, we had no problems while cycling there and people that we dealt with were uniformly friendly and accommodating. There was a great deal less tension in Zimbabwe and Botswana and, aside from Harare and Victoria Falls, we never felt fear or a sense of menace. These countries do not have to deal with the legacy of apartheid and I think the result is a more open and friendly culture.

Accommodations: We did a great deal more preparation for this trip than normal as we knew that places to stay might be scarce. We joined an international hosting group called Servas and we used internet contacts obtained from the British cycling club, CTC, to arrange other places to stay. As a result we stayed with some wonderful people in Pretoria, Gabaronne, Masvingo and Harare. In addition, we obtained a listing (as well as his book “Cycling in Africa”) from David Mozer, a Seattle man who organizes cycling tours of Africa, that was our primary resource for finding places to stay in rural areas of Zimbabwe. We camped whenever there was a campground and free-camped a few nights in Botswana. Otherwise we stayed in the hotels that usually could be found every 100 kilometers or so. Probably the highlight of our trip was the night we spent on a Shona family homestead in the homelands areas east of Masvingo. This came about by invitation as our original planned stop turned out to be a brothel.

Zimbabwe - New Friend 1999
Zimbabwe – New Friend 1999
Botswana Free Camp 1999
Botswana Free Camp 1999
Zimbabwe elephant 1999
Zimbabwe elephant 1999