Tour Adventures by Miles Crisp

Don’t miss Chapter 5 of Miles Crisp’s hilarious memoir, in which a shimmering ghost on a wobbly bicycle has to be extricated from arguably the oldest, thorniest wag ‘n bietjie bush in Zimbabwe…

We had one more day and wanted to understand how we could link the Sizi River source up to the vast expanse of hard sandstone top – we could ride on ancient elephant tracks grooved into the rock over centuries. We prepared our bikes and tired, scratched bodies as well as we could and set off early. I had already learned that the most frightening thing on the ride was not the prospect of barreling into a herd of elephants, it was the smaller crawlies. One of these was the magnificent golden orb spider that spanned their large webs between trees along pathways and gaps. I had already taken evasive action more than once.

We had found Kobus’s weakness – spiders and snakes. He could jump his bike off hectic drop-offs, he could chase whole warthog families up river beds and showed no fear of large animals. The sight of a ten-centimeter span golden orb spider reduced him to a quivering heap.

Golden Orb Spiders

We weaved our way between thorn trees, looking for some semblance of a single track. Digby had said, “It is as clear as daylight, like a highway through the bush. And look for a baobab on the ridge on the right and aim for that.”

“I don’t see Digby’s highway,” I complained.

“And no baobab on any ridge to the right,” added Janneman.

And then the air was rent by a blood-curdling, heart stopping scream from behind us. My body went cold with icy fear as I stopped and spun around to see if a leopard or some other such fearsome threat had captured and was starting to eat one of our number. What else could have caused such panic and fear?

It was a ghost.

On a very wobbly bicycle.

It lurched left and right, screaming – a mobile veil like a poncho with no hole for the head. This shimmering veil, covering handlebars and some of the front wheel, and cloaking the ghost’s whole chest, was covered in tiny spiders all diving for cover – leaving behind their gargantuan arachnid mother right in the middle. As accomplished as she clearly was at spawning hundreds of offspring, even she was confused by this early morning intrusion into her routine.

The ghost’s arms were now thrown up, flailing wildly like one of those floppy wind sock characters that they put outside garages. Two eyes shone through the web – wide open and wild with terror.

And then this banshee crashed to the right, out of control.

It lay inert – slightly calmer now, wriggling a bit – totally pinned into a stunted wag ’n bietjie bush, which had been growing millions of hook shaped thorns for the past hundred drought-stricken years – waiting for its moment.

We approached cautiously.

It was Kobus.

“Get me out of this thing – I can’t move – I am totally stuck. And I think that I have been bitten by that spider. Several times. And I might die soon.” We had never seen Kobus like this.

“Wow Kobus,” said Janneman, “You are really stuck. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever seen someone quite so stuck.”

“You seem to have frightened the spiders off,” I added – wondering where they were now.

“There is only one thing for it,” suggested Abbey. “We should all grip him on a little part that is not in the wag ’n bietjie bush, and on the count of three, just rip him out.”

“No no no no!” screamed Kobus. “I am already half bleeding to death. You will kill me.”

“We won’t even feel a thing – if we are careful not to get thorns in our fingers,” I contributed. “It is probably the kindest thing.”

“We could also just leave him here, and during the night a hyena will come and pull him out,” suggested Abbey. He was full of helpful suggestions.

“Is that still the spider down there?” I asked, pointing to Kobus’s nether regions.

“Get me out of here – slowly and gently!” Kobus was even crosser than earlier when he had had to bail out his trespassing family and buy the rocks and gems back from Vida.

We started work with pliers and clippers – one little sticky branch at a time. Kobus gradually extricated himself from the bush – one limb at a time. He looked like he had come from an abattoir.

Kobus after getting stuck in the wag ’n bietjie bush