Wednesday, May 19
Nata - Gaborone, Botswana
Peter, the owner of North Gate Lodge, sorts out a large portable board for us that we place surrealy by the road sign marked simply:
Very little traffic passes here in this vast, sparsely populated country of 1.2 million. Nata is on the edge of the Sowa Pan, part of the world’s largest, the Makgadikgadi Pans. Sadly, we neither have the time to cycle all the way south from here or to bike west to visit the pans and their magnificent bird life.
We find a lift to Francistown, 120 kilometres away, and then pick up a midday ride leaving for Gaborone. Truthfully, the 600 kilometre journey down the A1 is rather monotonous compared to much of what has passed these past weeks. We cross the Lose River and spot the first mountains in Botswana as the Mahalapye River comes into view.
But best of all we cross the Tropic of Capricorn, meaning I have completed one of my personal targets; namely ‘hitchbiking’ from roughly the equator to the tropics.
I wish we could have spent much more time in Botswana. It is certainly the most developed country I have seen in Africa. We have seen no poverty. No-one appears to beg on the streets. I guess the tourist board might Christen it ‘Zimbabwe as it once was’.
The numerous national parks and game reserves deserving of many hours will have to be visited another time, but at least I have educated myself about the beauty of this place.
In Gaborone we cycle through the city centre to our hotel. The capital is decidedly more European than African. We swerve in and out of rush hour traffic, negotiate traffic lights and roundabouts and finally make base for the night at the President Hotel.
The UNHCR, well aware that this is the final night for us of the journey south, have shouted the night at the President for us. It is a gorgeous hotel although bizarrely the adjacent shopping centre is so reminiscent of its counterpart in Coventry city centre that it sends my head-a-spinning as I stroll through it on my way to the local Spar. Outside the local newspaper headline reads:
Botswana foils World Cup terror plot
“I don’t know what to say on my final blogs. I am not sure how I feel,” Bjorn tells me as we crack open the first of the celebratory beer and whisky. Although we still have two or three hours of cycling in the morning, this hotel room represents the finishing line in many ways. Tomorrow we will be in South Africa and the ‘expedition’ will be completed.
“Don’t write anything just yet. Just enjoy the feeling of completion and the relief of making it all the way here safely. I don’t think you will understand how you feel now till you are back in Norway reflecting back on all this.”
After meeting the UNHCR representative for Botswana, the affable and extremely knowledgeable Mister Shana Kaninda, it is time for alcohol and reminiscences. Tales from the road; happy and scary memories merge. A sense of satisfaction and accomplishment builds inside. Dreams of what can be achieved at the World Cup in South Africa are discussed.
Part of me can’t wait to get to South Africa to know I have completed the journey. Another part of me wishes this wasn’t over just yet and that more adventures on the road were around the corner.
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’.