By Miles Crisp
“The sun rose directly from the horizon and slotted straight into its position directly above – its mission was to cook everything in sight. Our mission was to find a crossing point over the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe into South Africa…” It’s thirsty work recceing a route, as Miles Crisp recounts in Chapter 4 of his rollicking Nedbank Tour de Tuli memoir…
The next day the sun rose directly from the horizon and slotted straight into its position directly above – its mission was to cook everything in sight. Our mission was to find a crossing point over the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe into South Africa – one that was relatively accessible, and one which was fordable by pedestrians, bikes and vehicles. We had a hint or two from Digby – but had already established that it made no difference at all to him whether the river was in flood, whether the river was one metre deep, or five metres deep.
According to Digby, every single river was fordable – it just depended on how wet we were prepared to get. However, we had a more practical leadership team to report back to – we knew that Heather Wilson back at Control was unlikely to agree to issue all cyclists with snorkels.
We also had to find a route to this elusive crossing point.
Mike set off in the vehicle, we cyclists set off together – and zig-zagged backwards and forwards with the sun beating down on us vertically. We drank deeply from our water supplies and snacked on our nuts and raisins. We had no idea how long this would take. We closed in on our rendezvous with Mike and the river, hallucinating about the fresh cold water he had for us in reserve.
We were scratched, bleeding, sunburnt – tongues hanging out, dehydrated. We drank even more deeply – mindful of the dire warnings we had received about the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe along the Limpopo.
“Whatever you do, don’t drink the water from the river.”
We found a likely crossing point and debated between ourselves about making the plunge.
“So, Abbey – you are the oldest – everyone knows that crocodiles will never go for the oldest and toughest – they are partial to young tender meat. Why don’t you go first?” I suggested.
“No, Janneman – you live on a game farm and you are the most experienced amongst us. Besides which, you are Afrikaans and everyone knows that crocodiles are scared of Afrikaners. You go for it,” countered Abbey.
Digby was with us, watching in interest. “What is wrong with you South Africans? There are no very large crocodiles – these ones could at most tear off one limb, and you all have two of each. Besides which I will cover you from the bank with my rifle. Can’t you guys swim?”
Well that was a jibe directed straight at any nationalistic pride that we had. Kobus leapt straight off the bank, shoes and all.
“Follow me boys – everyone knows that they never grab the one in front – I have watched the videos of the wildebeest at the Masai Mara migrations. They wait for the weakest one at the back.”
We all dived in and set off – no-one wanting to be the weakling at the back.
Digby was helpful, “The last time I had to shoot a croc I accidentally shot my dog that was being taken. It is hellish difficult to tell the difference between the croc and its prey once you all start thrashing around in the water.”
The swimming part was done, we trudged across some five hundred metres of blistering sand, found the old military fences on the South African bank, made a note of some secret society code for the gate into Mapungubwe and set off back – feeling more and more like some clichéd actors in a French Foreign Legion movie crawling towards a mirage in the desert.
“Don’t forget about the cholera.”
We staggered up to Mike’s Land Cruiser desperate to top up our water bags with fresh supplies, cracked open the back and –
“Mike – where is the water?” I croaked.
“Right there in the back boys. I loaded it up myself,” retorted Mike with confidence.
“No, it isn’t,” we chorused.
The full impact of Mike’s carelessness sank in slowly. Die of dehydration or of cholera – what a choice? Digby had left – the only one who knew how to dig a hole with a sharp stick and suck up murky cholera-free sludge through the bark of a baobab tree.
“Let’s get going then – we have to hit Rock Camp before the hyenas come out to play – we can swallow our own spit – that is if we still have any spit,” urged Kobus and Janneman. They are both Afrikaans so they have many more ancestors who died of thirst on the Great Trek and the like. And also got eaten by hyenas. Abbey and I are not Afrikaans so we simply assumed that every story would have a happy ending. Our ancestors wore pith helmets and carried a hip flask for any emergency.
We set off in the general direction.
“Boys – there is a short-cut up the Sizi River and there is always a spring there. I went past it on my last visit with Digby” I explained. “Even the baobab trees are twice the size of normal.”
“Are you sure?” asked Janneman. “This track seems a bit dodgy and quite remote.”
“Follow me boys.”
Abbey fell back – panting. The three of us pulled up and huddled together in the shade of a large shimmering cactus – looking for any respite. Abbey arrived.
“Boys – I have lost my Garmin. It fell off somewhere behind on the track – maybe where I went over my handlebars in the thick, burning hot sand that we hit.”
“Is it insured?” queried Kobus. He was always the sympathetic caring one.
“I don’t know,” replied Abbey. We looked at each other – all on the same hot dry exhausted page.
“I will ask my broker when I get back to Joburg,” explained Abbey. This made sense to all of us.
We ploughed on through waves of heat and eventually emerged from the Pazhi River crossing point to reach Rock Camp and its deliciously cool thatched lapa roof and its smooth, shaded concrete floor to stretch out on. Mike the Repentant had got there first – and he had prepared huge mugs of Coke filled with ice and large jugs of icy water – the tastiest and most refreshing that any of us had ever gulped down.