I first heard about the Soweto cycle tours from my mom of all places. She’s one of those people who doesn’t just wonder what’s going on but rolls down the window and asks. I did the tour a while back and it’s been sitting in my drafts box, which it turns out has a lot of good stuff waiting for me to click publish already. My tourism month resolution is “Clear My Drafts Box!”
I find Lebo’s Soweto backpackers nestled opposite a quaint park with benches and a thatched oasis. The walls are bright and colourful. The mood is festive and homely at the same time. The tour is obviously on a bicycle and I haven’t ridden a bike in years. I’m hoping that the age old idiom “it’s like riding bike” holds true. That is, I’m hoping I really can still ride a bike.
I confidently climb onto the bike, swiftly push against the floor and watch in horror for a moment as the wheel spirals out of control forcing me to momentarily doubt that idiom. As I gain speed, my legs take over and I am thankfully convinced that it is in fact like riding a bike.
Dressed in a large, red rain poncho is our bubbly guide Sol. He hands us our helmets, welcomes us all to Soweto (and to others South Africa) and proceeds to give us our safety talk: “Keep left…Any questions?” Too excited to ask any questions, we head of up the road.
Our first stop is a local shebeen. Sol introduces us to ‘umqombothi’ (sorghum beer) and carefully explains how it is made. We then discuss the history of the area over a calabash of ‘umqombothi’. We’re told that the alcohol content is so low that you would probably only get drunk if you sat all day drinking. Unbeknown to Sol, his theory is about to be proved correct as “Malume” walks in. Malume is a tall, weather (or alcohol)-beaten old man. Interrupting Sol, he proceeds to explain in a slurred manner his own history. Sol entertains him respectfully. We all laugh, ask questions and drink our sorghum beer. Malume tell us he’s been here all night and will probably stay most of the day.
We believe him.
The tour includes: a ride through neighbouring areas in various stages of development; a stop at Hector Petersen Memorial, elegantly guarded by a large Olive tree; a very tasty lunch of ikota followed by a much needed cold, refreshing drinks and a ride up Vilakazi Street to Nelson Mandela’s old house.
Our mood mirrors that of the children along the way who cheer us on with laughter and smiles. At one point, I spot Sol up ahead. He’s care-freely learning against a small gate.
“Oh, Sol, are we taking a break?” I ask.
“No, no just keep going?” he responds smiling.
“Um, why have you stopped?” I ask.
He smiles sheepishly and says “this dog here has a habit of chasing people on bicycles. So when I go you go”. But I’m already well on my way. That dog looks hungry to me.
The ride itself is relativity easy going, there are a couple of inclines here and there but none are insurmountable. There are plenty of interesting details to learn along the way as the area is steeped in history. Whether you are familiar with the area or not, it is a must do. There was a great sense of camaraderie amongst this group of strangers.
With my bottom firmly moulded into the shape of the bike seat, there were loads of laughter and relief as we finish off our ride, huddle around a table and sip on some sweet tea.
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is situated in Orlando West, not far from the Hector Pieterson Museum and famous Vilakazi Street. It is locally owned and run. They run a whole host of activities in the area including bicycle tours.
+27 (0)11 936 3444