Tuesday, May 18
Kasane - Nata, Botswana
Paranoid about another possible scorpion incident my mind was put at rest before bedding down for the night when Bjorn told me the tent was 100 per cent sealed. “Nothing can possibly get it once the inner layer is zipped up. Not even a small snake,”
It does rather come as a surprise therefore to wake up around 4am and discover a big, friendly white cat peering through the tent door meowing at me. Turns out Bjorn has gone to take a leak in the bushes and forgotten to re-zip the canvas.
A Zimbabwean, working a few kilometers down the road at Dunlop, kindly drops us at the main road junction near Leshomo – the best place to try and cadge a hitch hike in the area. We must be in South Africa by Thursday so, dare I say ‘sadly’, we need to revert to hitch hiking rather than cycling to cover most of the remaining kilometers.
After an hour of fruitless thumbing of potential lift attempts a Toyota truck finally stops. Three locals negotiate a spot: one in the passenger compartment, two in the back.
“You people never stop and give us a lift when we need one,” the driver’s companion tells me.
I know what she is referring to but play dumb, “What do you mean – ‘your people’?”
“You white people never stop for us. It is the same where I come from in Zambia. It is the same here.”
“I am sorry. I cannot speak for the locals. We’re from Europe. There’d be no issue about picking you up where I come from.”
“OK. Where you travelling to?”
“We want to get as far as Nata today. We also have bicycles.” (I don’t bother to mention the dozen bags and cycle trailer)
“OK. 60 each, OK?”
“Yes, sure. Thanks for picking us up.”
With our bikes, trailer, bags and two other locals already perched in the back of the open-air truck the two of us manage to squeeze our masses into the last few centimeters of available space at the very rear of the Toyota.
From here it is 300 kilometres of almost entirely deserted tarmac.
Perched in the back we feel every bump, vibration and pot hole; every air current. My nostrils are occasionally filled by diesel fumes and the odd collision with unfortunate high speed flies. With a can of cold Castle in hand we pass two elephants by the road side munching from some tree or bush. Lush greenery is replaced by arid semi-desert. The drive is extremely uncomfortable at times; the first signs of cramp surge through my left leg. But this is an amazing way to travel. I feel alive, so very alive.
As the truck passes through its second animal disease contamination check point of the day and the Makgadikgadi Pans draw closer, we pull up in Nata.
The town resembles a posh North African desert town, something, of course, that does not exist.
Adjacent to where we are dropped is North Gate Lodge, the most luxurious night’s accommodation I have had since my journey began more than six weeks ago: Air con, bar next to swimming pool, satellite TV and friendly owners.
It is the perfect end to one of those days when you really can say ‘I feel alive’.
Monday, May 17
Chobe National Park, Botswana
No sign of the dinosaur we join the early morning safari into the Chobe National Park.
In Africa the word 'safari' simply means journey and during the past few weeks we have met many locals in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi who have asked us about our 'bicycle safari'.
So now, with our own personal safaris drawing to an end we decide it is time to partake of the tourist's version of said word.
When you see a fully grown male lion in the wilderness for the first time you can’t help but feel rather emotional; when you see the king of the jungle with his Lioness and four small cubs you can’t help but get choked up with tears.
The lions wander past less than twenty metres away from our safari jeep.
Twenty minutes later the Lioness emerges from the bush, her face bloodied from a fresh kill. The cubs excitedly jump around her, yelping and licking her face. It is an implausible sight.
Chobe is a truly amazing place. During the next couple of hours we set eyes upon hundreds of Impalas, countless lovebirds and hunting fish eagles, six more lions and a handful of pyschopathic warthogs.
In the old spaghetti western movies you would see three or four vultures circling above in the azure sky, a sure sign of a kill somewhere in the neighbourhood. On this morning there are so many vultures present that they have given up flying around and are competing for branch space in the trees. One particularly sinister looking leafless tree has about a dozen of the evil looking birds, perched restlessly, ready to clean up after the lions.
The Thebe River Safaris camp is one of those unusual places where you can enjoy the budget and luxury experience in the very same location. If you want a beautiful lodge room than this is the place for you. If you want to camp out in nature, listening to the sounds of the jungle, this is also for you.
The same applies to the safaris:
There are the luxury safari options, and there are the budget safari options. Truthfully, I had all but ruled out the possibility of taking a safari because of limited budgets, but here it was so affordable that Bjorn and I were able to take a second safari -the river cruise- later the same day.
If we thought the morning experience was unforgettable then we certainly weren't prepared for the spectacular nature of the day ahead of us.
Our boat sped off down river around 3pm. In the hours that followed we saw crocodiles, a spectacular array of weird and wonderful birds and countless impalas nervously trotting along the banks of the river.
Then came the elephants - some in the bush, some cooling off in the water - and then the hippos and the giraffes.
It all comes together around dusk to form several moments of perfection when, with the sun slipping below the western shore of the river, we divert away from a gang of aggressive hippos, observe a troupe of monkeys negotiating their way past three elephants (ears flapping furiously), and cut off the boat's engine to watch the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck sight of four giraffes trying their best not to overbalance into the river so that they can each take a sip or two of water.
We also enjoy the Miami Vice style speed boat journey home, zipping through the water, as the light fades and Venus appears in the evening sky.