By Miles Crisp
In Part 3 of Tour veteran Miles Crisp’s memoir documenting virtually the entire history of the Tour’s various iterations, the recce crew undertakes its first proper scouting mission into the Tuli Circle from Sentinel Ranch – with a handful of “non-compliant” (i.e. lucky not to be shot on sight) companions. We are sharing excerpts from Miles’s notes every week – and we hope you’re enjoying this rollicking ride down the dongas of his reminiscences as much as we are…
Within a couple of months, we were back in Zimbabwe with a proper team. Mike was complemented by Philip Lochner – our old Land Rover Club champion who had chaperoned us right from the very first Tour de Kruger. Our cyclist team comprised Janneman van der Merwe, Kobus Burger, Abbey de Groot and myself. We had a broad plan, and just to be inclusive, Janneman and Kobus also brought their families. We based ourselves at Sentinel Ranch’s The Rock Camp. It was good to have reinforcements so that when Digby and Vanessa were both talking to us, we could split up to listen. By comparing notes afterwards, we made sure that we lost nothing.
We got to work – one of the first assignments was to see whether the Nature Conservation rangers were expecting us or not, and we needed to see what was on the other side of the Shashe River in the Tuli Circle. We packed the cars with people and bikes and drove the distance to Fort Tuli. We established that we were semi-expected – but detail was clearly not a strength of the Zimbabwean communications.
We managed to convince the rangers that we should be allowed to cross and get to a place called Flycamp in Botswana. We were assigned a young ranger called Ndo – he sat in the middle in the front and directed Mike along unused tracks through bush that had never been anything else. Ndo explained that their policy was to shoot first and ask questions afterwards – their anti-poaching units were crack and ruthless. The rangers patrolled the Circle on foot, staying out for over a week at a time, living off the land. He explained that if anyone crossed the Shashe River unauthorised, they would shoot them. It was not complicated.
We found the Flycamp by its co-ordinates, fixed Janneman’ s broken off derailleur, plugged Mike’s punctured tyre, ate a snack and cycled back on the hunting tracks to Fort Tuli. Temperatures were around 40° C, so that even the tiny stream of water making its way to the confluence with the Limpopo was a welcome respite. The ice was broken. We were now proper Tour de Tuli scouts.
The next day we made our way back to Fort Tuli – now needing to establish the route down the left bank of the Shashe to a campsite recommended to us by Digby – on Sentinel on the bank of the Limpopo. This time we brought the ladies and the children – dropped them off and set off southwards on our bikes. Mike and Philip had the job of meeting us some 40 kilometres away – they had to find and map support vehicle routes.
All went smoothly, we were collected safely and then headed back to Fort Tuli to collect the families.
The first sign of trouble was that they were all sitting disconsolately on the baking-hot stoep of the Nature Conservation office. They were also just a little bit too pleased to see us.
“It was Cathy’s fault – she wouldn’t listen,” explained Marissa.
“What about Vida – she wouldn’t give the ranger man the rocks back,” reported her older sister Githe.
They looked a little like prisoners.
“What happened?” asked Kobus – looking quite fierce. He was tired from a long ride in the heat.
“We finished exploring the left bank of the Shashe – there is not much here,” gushed Marissa.
“And so, we decided to see what is on the other side,” reasoned Cathy. “We took a walk over the river and went to look for the old Fort.”
“But we explained to you that they shoot unauthorised people on sight on the other side,” sighed Janneman – clearly a little more accustomed to a non-compliant family.
“Well they didn’t shoot us, although things got a bit tense when Vida wouldn’t hand back the rocks and gems,” explained Tegan – a keen observer of human nature and interaction.
“Luckily we had those USD on us so we could afford the fine – and they reduced the fine after we explained that none of you told us that we were not allowed to cross – so it wasn’t our fault,” stated Marissa.
“But we all told you…”
“Not properly you didn’t. And we did get receipts for the fines.”
We thanked the Nature Conservation team for not shooting our ladies and children, packed up the bikes and the people and gapped it back to the relatively normal atmosphere of the Sentinel Rock Camp.