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How to Plan an Epic African Bike Ride - Part 2


all seasons in one day 78 °F

Last time we spoke about how to choose a route and what to pack, but there are a few things that we didn't cover:

What about wild animals?

This is a serious consideration, but only in certain parts of Botswana, Tanzania and Uganda.

In Botswana there are elephants everywhere, and because they are mostly outside parks and therefore frequently in conflict with local farmers, they are not the friendliest.

Is it true that elephants never forget? If they have seen other elephants harmed by humans they don't tolerate people well.


If an elephant has no reason to see humans as a threat (like the ones you see in game parks) they will usually cause no problem. The trouble with seeing them on a bike and in unregulated areas is that you don't know if an elephant will be one of the traumatized aggressive ones or a dosile one - until he's charging you... or not!

We were given a tonne of conflicting advice ranging from... “Don't worry about them guys - the elephants are friendly” to “Are you crazy, there's ele's everywhere in that area – they'll kill you!”

We were given a tonne of conflicting advice ranging from... “Don't worry about them guys - the elephants are friendly” to “Are you crazy, there's ele's everywhere in that area – they'll kill you!”

I think the best advice for bikers is to keep a close look out in elephant areas. You'll know they are around well before you see them because of all the broken trees and dung. When you see them keep a good distance (about 200m) if the bush is too thick to see more than about 30m from the road - hitch a ride. If you do get charged and are on tar – cycle very fast the opposite way! If you are not on tar, your only chance is to stand your ground. Elephants usually mock charge, characterised by ear flapping, trumpeting and trunk held high. If he means business then he'll flatten his ears and tuck his trunk away – if you see this you are in serious trouble. Hope that there's a VERY large tree to climb up and pray for divine intervention!!

The next most dangerous animals are wild buffalo (the photo shows a herd of >1000 at a good distance!) – these are the huge guys with big horns. They will charge completely unprovoked. We came across a small herd in Zambia that were crossing the road from the Zambezi Game Park to raid farmers fields after dark – fortunately they were so focussed on getting to the maize fields that they ignored us!


Cows come a close second to buffalo for unpredictable aggression. These guys charged Pol as she sat on the verge a couple of seconds after she took this photo. If she hadn't done a backwards roll down the bank I would have needed to get the suture pack out!

Next on the list are the lions – we asked a game ranger about this in Bots, “you'll be fine “ he said, “as long as you see them before you pass them. If you cycle past one she'll chase you by instinct.”
Unfortunately, though in the areas where the lions were, there was also pretty dense bush and long grass - spotting them before cycling past would have been a challenge... We assume that we never did cycle past any!


Hippos kill the most people in Africa annually – usually because locals try to catch them in snares and traps for their prized meat and to stop them ransacking their crops. As long as you don't get between them and the water when they are on land, and you don't get too close if you are in a canoe, they won't show much interest in you

When in wild areas we always had mace spray, a high pitched deafening 'rape alarm', and a fairly substantial knife handy. We figured that the mace would blind, the rape alarm would deafen and the knife would do as a last resort (but not for an elephant)! We met a guy who shot an elephant with a rocket launcher in the Rhodesian War as it was attacking his patrol – that did stop the ele (“blew its head clean off!”). I don't think a pocket knife would have had the same effect!

What Will I Eat And Where Will I Find Water?

A good general principle is If you can find people, you can find water and food.

Some people swear by water filters - but they are either heavy, disposable or, if UV, need loads of batteries. As long as you can find clear water you can 'puritab' it, if you can't find clear water you can boil it... if desperate you can simply survive on coke - however remote you get in Africa!

With regards to food - we take the approach of 'When in Rome - Do as the Romans do."

Buy stuff locally - don't carry more than 2 days food (less if in a populated area) and don't be afraid to eat in little local restaurants. The only time we have had food poisoning was in KFC™ in South Africa! The staple Eastern and Southern African diet is quite healthy but can get monotonous - so it is nice to have a treat sometimes - We always carry a tub of sugar, powdered milk and cocoa so we can have a comforting cup of cocoa!

Sugar cane - African Mars Bar Substitute

Sugar cane - African Mars Bar Substitute

What Medical Kit Do I Need?
Rob's a doctor and spent ages thinking about this – these are general principles - if you need details email us!

Main health concerns are:
1. Being hit by a truck - trauma is by far the biggest risk to a cycle tourer.
Dressings, pain killers, if possible get someone to show you how to stitch - then get hold of stitches, needle holder and local anaesthetic

2. Diarrhoea
Keep well hydrated, Diaorolyite sachets are good, if they run out add 7 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 litre of water and eat tomatoes or bananna (for potassium)
If you have a fever, pain and blood in your stool you have dysentery - take ciprofloxacin; if no better in 48hrs you probably have amoeba so take Metronidazole

3. Malaria
If in a high incidence area take prophylaxis; however this is not 100% effective so take a 'rapid test' (like a pregnancy test - but for malaria) and a course of treatment (co-artem)

4. Crotch Rot
This is extremely likely and extremely unpleasant! Good hygiene is the key. We had 2 pairs of cycle shorts and washed one pair daily, then dried it on the back of the bike. Lamisil cream is expensive but worth it's weight in gold if your bits start to itch!

Prevention is far better than cure. Have a wing mirror to see if the truck is going to hit you or is going round you. Be wise with water. Don't get bitten by mozzies and keep your undies clean!

Put everything in a Tupperware™ box. Take all tabs out of their tubs to stop them rattling about and turning to dust!


So now you should be about sorted for your own adventure - get out there and do it -you won't regret it!

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Posted by robandpol 19:05 Archived in Rwanda Tagged bicycle

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Some great advice in here and love the photos!

by Peter

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