Maun, Botswana to Luderitz, Namibia 18/04/2012
Internet reception hasn’t been too common lately, so firstly I apologise for not updating in the last couple of weeks.
I won’t bore you with all of the details of the happenings of the last few weeks: i’ll keep it succinct.
We sadly waved goodbye to Shaun once we departed Windhoek (capital of Namibia). Shaun’s temporary addition to the team was brilliant but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as the stretch he road was by far the longest we’d done on this whole trip and included a marathon 5 day stretch of 820km which included a one day ride of 211km.
Arriving in Windhoek was surreal- the city is by far the most developed and affluent we’ve come across since leaving Melbourne. I commented on this to my hairdresser who replied that “Nambia is not Africa”. Out for dinner one night, I marvelled at the bank of luxury European cars lined up outside the restaurant- we haven’t seen one of these cars in almost four months and to see 7 or 8 of them lined up side by side in one hit cemented the fact that we were very much in the first world again. Out for dinner that night at quite a lavish Portuguese restaurant, we lied and said it was Gavan’s birthday and enjoyed the staff singing Gavan happy birthday as they brought out a slab of cake, with candles and a bottle of champagne, all on the house. Coincidentally, I think it’ll be another of our birthdays when we arrive in Cape Town in a couple of weeks.
Botswana, overall, was largely sparse, remote with unchanging landscape. The wildlife was quite incredible as all we seemed to do was skirt game parks and wildlife reserves. The remoteness dictated the long rides we were forced to do, and the remoteness was easily the most severe we’d come across since Sudan. BUT, Botswana’s remoteness is second only to Namibia’s.
Upon crossing into Namibia, I didn’t have an idea of what to expect with regards to landscape or culture. The first thing we noticed was the ‘clicking’ language, which still amazes me. I presumed that Nambia was 100% desert and flat. How wrong I was. Granted, the landscape is defined as desert, but not the kind of desert most people have in their mind. The land is covered with sandy soil and silverly short grass but nothing else. And it’s hot: really, really hot. We haven’t endured this kind of heat since Sudan, and like Sudan, it gets freezing cold at night. But, by far the most incredible thing about Namibia is the seemingly endless mountain ranges which dwarf anything i’ve ever seen on this trip or anything before it. Not that I’ve ever been, but the mountains resemble what I imagine Afghanistan to look like.
The route we’re taking through Namibia doesn’t really allow much site seeing though. We’ve spent the majority of our time off road and the roads have thus far been difficult and don’t permit you to look much further than 3 feet in front of your wheel as you navigate your way past corrugations, sand patches and ruts. I don’t know when it happened but i’ve become someone who can only seem to concentrate with their tongue half hanging out of their mouth. And my tongue seems to spend a lot of time out of my mouth in Namibia as we’re riding. Granted the roads are better than the other off road sections we’ve done in Kenya and Tanzania but it’s still hard to ride 100+kms each day while passing such amazing scenery and not really be able to look at it or appreciate it. The off road sections we’ve been on in Namibia have taken their toll on my bike and have suffered some quite bad, but repairable, damage to the bike, which if it continues could mean the end of the trip for me, so i’m desperately hoping that the bike holds together for another 10 days of riding, otherwise i’ll literally be walking across the finish line with 2 wheels, a seat and a set of handlebars.
We’ve today arrived in Aus, a junction town where we’ve taken a day off to head out to the coastal town of Luderitz. On the day we were riding into Aus, Shane had to race ahead to, sadly, get tested/treated for rabies after what at the time was a hilarious incident involving a very aggressive meerkat. Said meerkat approached and then later attacked us as we had a roadside break under the shade of a tree outside a farmhouse. While sitting there, we were amazed to see this meerkat approaching us. That amazement soon passed as it hissed and continually charged at us, bearing its teeth and trying to bite each of us. It was all fun and games for a few minutes as we dodged it and tried to scare it away, until it finally landed its teeth into Shane’s leg and was subsequently flung through the air as Shane tried to detach the angry little thing from his leg. Proud at having found a victim, the meerkat then ran away. We laughed, hysterically, for quite a while. Then we realised just how unorthodox this behaviour was for a cute and generally placid little creature and Shane had to race forward to Luderitz to err on the side of caution and be treated for rabies, just in case. It’s not something you mess around with really.
So, as of today, we have but 12 days left on this trip. From here we ride for about 3 days towards Fish River Canyon and have another day or two off before pushing another day to the border of South Africa and then making the final 5 day slog to the end at Cape Town. I’m a mixture of emotions with the knowledge that this trip is coming to an end. I’ve got exciting and new things ahead of me back home in Melbourne, so i’m quite looking forward to going home to get started on that. I’m ‘ready’ to finish this trip- it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it: I have, more than i’ve ever enjoyed anything before, but I’m very eager and hungry to get across the finish line and be able to relish in the achievement of what’s been the biggest and most exciting adventure i’ve ever done in my life.
I’ll leave it at that- it’s dry, short and sweet but i’m fining it very difficult to type as I sit in the back of a car en-route to Luderitz.
I’ve uploaded some photos to the Botswana page as well as having added a new Nambia page.
Livingstone, Zambia to Maun, Botswana 04/04/2012
Of the 3 months we’ve spent on the road, we’ve been given occasional bad advice. We’ve been told towns are 30kms away when in actual fact they’re closer to 100km. We’ve been told that the road ahead of us is perfectly flat when there’s actually nothing but mountains. But the advice we were given in our accommodation in Kasane, Botswana (1 day’s ride after leaving Livingstone) takes the cake. We’d spoken to the host of our basic accommodation of our proposed route and asked what the wildlife situation was as we were looking at camping the following few nights. Without hesitation, our white host confirmed that it was fine to camp and that we were perfectly safe.
It’s worth knowing that Botswana, so far, has been the most sparsely populated country we’ve visited. We’ve ridden whole days (160kms) without passing anything even remotely resembling civilisation.
With our host’s ‘advice’, we set off with overly laden bikes carrying enough food and water for 5 hungry and thirsty cyclists for the next 2 days as we set off from Kasane on the 320km push to the next town at Nata. This route is along what’s informally known as the Elephant Highway and no sooner had we set off on it that we saw a herd of elephants literally standing on the side of the road. We’d been warned by many travellers that when/if we found ourselves in this situation to stop and wait for the elephants to move as they commonly charge anything on the road (trucks, cars) but they especially dislike cyclists and motorcyclists. Once we got to about 50m away, they started running back into the bush, which we took to be a sign that all the advice we’d previously been given to be false. Gavan and I rode through the herd. I was filming when one of the last elephants turned, flayed its ears and started to come straight towards us. I panicked and flew forward- running the gauntlet to safety. Gavan, perhaps more sensibly, stopped and turned back. I managed to get the whole thing on film so i’ll try and upload to youtube soon. My heart has perhaps not beat that fast, ever.
We did our budgeted 160kms that day and wound up, as expected, in the middle of nowhere. Decent camping sites were few and far between due to the high undergrowth, thick scrub and ant infestations. After each of us trudging around for about 30 minutes, unsuccessfully looking for somewhere to camp, a big semi trailer stopped and beckoned us to his cabin. I walked up and climbed up his side steps to see what he wanted. Without even me saying a word, he immediately said something along the lines of “What the HELL are you doing here”? I replied “Looking for somewhere to camp”. His facial expression was as equally shocking as his response. “There are man-eating lions everywhere... And they’re always eating people... If you camp here tonight, you will die”. We were 160kms from the border town we’d just come from and another 160km to the next town in Nata. By this time, a few more cars had stopped and each of us was fact-checking the truck driver’s alarming news. All of the other cars said the same thing, with equal-to-more-urgent responses. Wade actually got yelled at by one of the drivers for a) being out here and b) not knowing about the lions. A Botswanian Government Wildlife car had stopped by this time and we all spoke to the driver who essentially ordered that we jump on the back of the truck and hitch 90kms to a veterinary road-block camp where we could sleep the night. It took little convincing and we started piling 20 panniers and 5 people into the sleeper-cabin of the truck and lashed the bikes on the trailer to start our shameful journey to our camp. By this time, Roy, our young truck driver, started to get panicky for even being out of the cabin of his trick. Once we piled in and were under way, Roy regaled us with stories of the animals on the road and told us about another truck driver who, a year or so before, was driving along this same road with his wife who asked to stop to go to the bathroom, in the bush. Roy said the truck driver stayed in the cabin and only heard his wife scream once, which was when a leopard took her, never to be seen again. Within 10 minutes, we saw a wild-dog (similar to a hyena) chasing small animals across the road- which confirmed that we’d made the right decision. We arrived at our veterinary campsite which consisted of nothing more than a water tank and some small compounds where the police who manned the checkpoint slept at night. The following morning, we hitch hiked back to the point where we jumped on the truck the night before and continued our journey, a lot quicker than the previous day due to the advice we’d been given that we’d be safe as long as we were off the road before 6pm, as lions apparently don’t do much before then. What they’re doing before 6pm, I don’t know.
Botswana’s remoteness continued for the following two days as we grinded out both a 160km day into Nata and then a 100km day from Nata to Gweta (passing a grand total of about 2 small towns in both days); where we had a day off to go and check out the world’s biggest salt pan and meerkats which were respectively underwhelming and cute. Being that it was a day off, we’d asked that our vehicle to the salt pans and meerkats be packed full of beer. We had our first beer at 10am, rugged up in thick jackets in the back of an open air truck as we belted around in the bush for a few hours en-route to salt pans and meerkats. The highlight of the day was a German kid of about 14 years old (there were about 16 people in two 4WDs (including us)) who had an urgent bout of the runs and ended up with his pants around his ankles crying “Mummy, Mummy, Poo”. We sat back crying with laughter (discretely, so as not to scar the poor kid) as his Mum cleaned him up.
From Gweta, we had another long day in Botswana’s remoteness and ended up in a tiny town camped in a school ground for the night. It’s great to be back in the tents and also back in the middle of no-where. It’s also great to be making our westerly push across Africa with an enormous tail-wind that’s pushing us along at an average of 30km/h which is really moving considering our overall average for the whole trip is only 20km/h. Botswana’s remoteness is like nothing we’ve seen before throughout Africa. Its land size is enormous and its population is tiny (something like 2,000,000). Perhaps if lions stopped killing people, this may not be the case.
So we’re now in Maun, which is the biggest town we’ve come across in Botswana where we have another day off to arrange joy flights in 2 helicopters over the Okavango Delta. I really don’t mind having a day off, followed by 2 day’s riding, then another day off. We’ve just passed the 9,000km mark. I was talking to an American tourist today about our trip. He asked how far we’d come and how far we had to go. I told him we were on the ‘home stretch’. He asked if I realised we still had almost 3,000km to go. Yes, I replied: the home stretch.
Everyone’s well, healthy and happy. Shaun’s very quickly become an integral part of the group: I don’t think i’ve ever met someone as down to earth and funny. My stomach’s continually sore from laughing- i’ve never laughed so much in my life. I really don’t want him to leave in a week or so and really wish he was riding in to Cape Town with us. Shaun’s running a blog- so check it out for photos and another perspective (http://offexploring.com/hardluckstories).
So in a nutshell, that’s our last week. Elephants, warthogs, ostriches, wild dogs, truck drivers, meerkats and plenty of laughs.
From here we have a 2 day ride to enter Namibia where we spend about 18 days before crossing in to South Africa and make the 5 day push to our finish line in Cape Town. We’re still debating what our finish line will be in Cape Town. I’m voting for the “welcome to Cape Town sign whereas Gavan’s trying to push for something more official, like the coast. Though we still have 30 days to go, things are drawing to a close quite quickly. I’ve already emailed work and told them of my impending return and set a date for my return to work, which i’m confusingly quite looking forward to.
I've added a handful of photos to my Zambia page and set up a new Botswana page which has quite a few photos in it over the last week or so.