Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town

Posted on September 26, 2012 by

“W elcome to our home,” said Vivian, our guide for the day. Vivian grew up here in Masiphumelele, a township at the edge of Kommetjie and far from the glitz and glamour of Cape Town. Like the other 45,000 people living here, her parents and grandparents had come from the rural areas of Eastern Cape and other parts of the country in the 1980s, to find work and a better standard of living.

Today, about 40% of the people living here are unemployed and most live in less than favorable living conditions. Levels of shelter and air circulation are inadequate and respiratory diseases are common; fire is a constant threat; the sewage disposal system is dysfunctional; and HIV is one of the major concerns here. The name Masiphumelele was given to this area, as it means “we will succeed!” in Xhosa.

Streets of Masiphumelele

On Two Wheels

Vivian belongs to the new generation of South Africans, ready to fight for their happiness and a better lifestyle. Beaming with energy, she welcomed us into their community as we saddled up onto our bikes to take a tour around town. I struggled to keep my balance on the old style Dutch bike (I’m not the best biker around) but I soon got used to the manual back-pedal brakes and found myself whizzing through the dusty back streets of Masiphumelele, waving to locals along the way.

“On bikes, you get closer to your surroundings. You have many more opportunities to interact with the community than you would have from an air-conditioned bus,” said Sally Peterson, the director of AWOL tours. It was Sally’s love for cycling that sparked the idea of a bicycle township tour. As a biking enthusiast, Sally was nominated as OutThere Magazine’s “Adventurer of the year” finalist in 2001 after cycling from London to Cape Town to raise funds for Survival International.

In 2002, she founded AWOL Tours and initiated this bicycle tourism program in conjunction with a non-profit organization, Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN). BEN facilitates the importation of second hand bicycles to South Africa where they have helped to set up and provide ongoing support to locally owned bicycle workshops, training and employing members of the community to renovate the bikes for the bike tours.

“On bikes, you get closer to your surroundings. You have many more opportunities to interact with the community than you would have from an air-conditioned bus,” said Sally Peterson, the director of AWOL tours.

Sally and her love for bikes

Experiencing Local Life

Back in Masiphumelele, we hopped off our bikes to have lunch at Kwa Nongolooza’s Place, a simple and cozy shack that looked like someone’s backyard. The smell of barbequed meat sipped through the corrugated roof as we sat down for our meal.

There were no utensils; we had to eat with our fingers, just like the locals. I dipped my fingers into the pale white pap (maize porridge commonly eaten all over Africa) and kneaded it into dough, before drenching it with rose red spicy chakalaka vegetable relish. I mixed them all up with some off-the-braai pork chops and sausage, and licked the  sauce off my fingers. By this point, we’d tried plenty of Capetonian foods from gourmet bobotie to Cape Malay cuisine, but this simple lunch turned out to be my favorite meal in Cape Town.

Barbequed meat

After we had filled up our stomachs, we jumped back on our bikes to paddle past more shacks, one cramped next to another, along the severely polluted water canals and dust-filled alleys. We poked our heads in, and saw that some huts had water and electricity supply – which was quite a relief. On the other side of the road, we saw some construction work and a few newly erected apartment buildings. Vivian told us that those were the new housing built by the government, to support the inhabitants of Masiphumelele. Aid was coming in to the township, albeit slowly.

It’s easy to see why AWOL tours is such a success. AWOL’s bike tours have a strong emphasis on humanitarian work and community-based efforts. Since establishment, more than 3,000 tourists have participated on this tour, spreading considerable financial benefit to the community.  Apart from the various donations from the visiting tourists, much needed income has been generated and put into circulation in local township.

We then made a stop at Masiphumelele Library, a center where people came to study, take classes in English and computers, and develop career goals. Funding for the library originally came from an American couple, John and Carol Thompson from New Hampshire who started MasiCorp (Masiphumelele Corporation and Trust), a non-profit

 educational organization. Today funding comes from a coalition of local organizations and volunteer teachers and tutors.

Children at Masiphumelele Library

Here, we met several young children, who quickly became our new friends. One of the girls held my hands as we toured the library, and didn’t bear to say goodbye when we hopped back on to our bikes. Even though they didn’t speak much English, they could understand me and tell me their names and where they lived. They were as curious about as as we were of them.

We continued our tour to the local creche (day nursery), where we were surrounded by over 100 infants, before visiting the home of a traditional healer. The healer, or sangoma, happened to be Vivian’s mother and an important person in the community. Many people in the township come to consult her for medical advice, but she’s a lot more than that. She also shares traditions, myths and stories passed down to her from the previous sangoma.

Sitting in her living room, we watched as she sang and danced. The music was hypnotic and we couldn’t help but sway to the beat of the drum. While we had no idea what she was singing about, we could feel the connection she had to the spiritual gods and that wasn’t something that one could fake.

Traditional healer

It’s easy to see why AWOL tours is such a success. AWOL’s bike tours have a strong emphasis on humanitarian work and community-based efforts. Since establishment, more than 3,000 tourists have participated on this tour, spreading considerable financial benefit to the community.

Apart from the various donations from the visiting tourists, much needed income has been generated and put into circulation in local township as part of tourism services and fees paid to business owners such as the BEN bicycle shop, the lunch shack at Kwa Nongolooza’s, the sangoma, and the local creche.

As we bid farewell to our new friends, we left with a smile, happy to have had a chance to gain new perspectives and at the same time, contributing just a little to this community.

A little girl in the creche

For more information, visit the AWOL Tours website. The bicycle township tour prices are as follows:

  • half day tour is from R600 per person excluding transport; 
  • half day including transport is R1000 per person and
  • full –day tour price of R1300 per person all inclusive

Have you visited a township? How do you feel about community-based tours?


Disclosure: Our trip was made possible by Cape Town Tourism and AWOL Tours, but all opinions expressed above are our own. For more photos from bike tour, click here.  

Comments

comments

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

16 Responses to “Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town”

  1. Roxanne October 5, 2012 2:19 am #

    This is a fabulous story, thank you. People in African townships live a life of hardship, but there's so much joy and positive spirit too, and you're lucky to have shared in that. LOVE the bright-eyed little girl in the last picture!

  2. Laurience November 3, 2012 8:48 pm #

    Really nice story. Those people have so little however are so happy AMAZING

  3. brand December 26, 2012 5:27 am #

    I am just uncovering this internet site via the Archos product and I cant obtain the detailed internet site to arrive to be from the positioning to load. we Just assumed you wants to know!

  4. tickets air flight March 22, 2013 4:10 pm #

    I am in fact glad to read this weblog posts which consists of plenty of valuable information, thanks for providing such data.| tickets air flight http://www.funtraveldeals.com/book-flights/

  5. agate cameos pendant March 22, 2013 4:41 pm #

    Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this web site, and your views are fastidious for new viewers.| agate cameos pendant http://www.goldmemoriesforever.com

  6. papaka March 22, 2013 5:07 pm #

    Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup. Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?| papaka http://www.takeload.com

  7. pure garcinia cambogia March 23, 2013 9:36 am #

    Can I simply just say what a relief to find an individual who truly knows what they’re talking about over the internet. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people need to read this and understand this side of the story. It’s surprising you are not more popular given that you definitely have the gift.| pure garcinia cambogia http://www.pure-garcinia-cambogia.org

  8. AlternativestoGooglese March 24, 2013 1:36 pm #

    Many thanks for writing this high-quality article..Loved your articles or blog posts. Be sure to do always keep writing Alternatives to Google search engine http://asdasghdsdfs5hf.com

  9. emergenceconsulting.com.au April 21, 2013 4:34 am #

    Searched Yahoo/Bing and landed up here – its good so I posted the link on my Facebook account

  10. channelwhitsundays.com April 21, 2013 4:35 am #

    It was a good postin

  11. churchesofchrist-sa.org.au April 21, 2013 4:36 am #

    one thought subject material leading gift into daughter%3

  12. Emma May 2, 2013 1:59 pm #

    Yummy recipe indeeed!!! Sounds like lip-smacking!! I also ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup. Thanks!!

  13. Ultra Garcinia Cambogia June 19, 2013 10:56 pm #

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I
    believe that you need to write more about this topic, it may not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!

  14. trytriplexultra April 9, 2014 2:59 am #

    This is a fabulous story, thank you. People in African townships live a life of hardship.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town – Tips from the T | 301news.co.za - September 26, 2012

    [...] post Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town appeared first on Wild [...]

  2. Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town | Travel - October 4, 2012

    [...] post Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town appeared first on Wild [...]

Leave a Reply