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.
Eight dead snakes, one shy crocodile, a pair of inquisitive impalas, three hornbills and a bike crash
Sunday, May 16
Livingstone, Zambia - Kasane, Botswana
We set off early Sunday morning and say our goodbyes to Tore, who has been a brilliant host. While we set the bikes up (after wheels and parts were removed after travelling south from Lusaka), you can hear psalm readings and Christian hymns competing with birdsong.
The M10 between Livingstone and Kazungula passes through the Zambezi National Park. We have the road and parts of the park almost entirely to ourselves.
After swirving to avoid a decapitated snake, stretched out across the asphalt, I suddenly spot a tremendously beautiful impala stood transfixed next to some bushes at the side of the road. He is staring back at me on my Chinese bike like he's never seen anything like me before. As I turn my head back to the road in front, the next thing I notice is Bjorn's right arm raised in the air and his trailer less than a metre away from my front tyre. I am only doing about 10 kph but I have got no chance of breaking in time.
Tyres-a-screeching I go head first over the handle bars, bouncing into the side of Bjorn's trailer, before hitting the road. I am lucky it is only cuts and bruises to both legs and a long, deep cut near my right shoulder.
A kind passer-by drops his bicycle and runs over to check that I am OK. Where the impala has gone I do not know, but if he was staring at me before I smashed into the back of Bjorn's bike then he must really think I am silly now.
Bruised and bloodied we get back on our way. Parrots, hornbills, lovebirds and fish eagles swoop overhead, treating us to a collection of beautiful and rather weird birdsongs. It is incredible to be cycling through a place like this.
Having passed our fifth dead snake of the day Bjorn does another of his sudden abrupt stops in front, although now I have learned my lesson and allow a stopping distance behind him more like 50 metres instead of five. There, in the creek below the main road, a shy crocodile eyes us then retreats to a hidden spot below some driftwood. It is fair to say it makes your head spin when you see a crocodile when you are out on a sunday morning bike ride.
After a series of tough hills, each rewarded with spectacular views of the national park, we reach the outskirts of Kazungula. The phone rings and it is Aussie Tim texting us to tell us his bus has just overtaken us on its way to Namibia.
Kazungula is where Zambia ends, the Zambezi River roars by, and a pontoon bridge transports lorries, cars and foot passengers across to Botswana.
A local lad, Adam, points us in the direction of customs and immigration and after saying goodbye to him and Zambia we are on our way to Botswana for 30 pence each.
The Zambezi River current is viscious and unpredictable with what look like tiny maelstroms appearing and disappearing thoughout the short crossing. In 2003, 18 people drowned when the pontoon sank. The pontoon bridge ferry can only accommodate two lorries at a time, meaning that the vehicle queue to get on board stretches back a couple of kilometres. The joy of travelling by cycle means we do not have to queue to get across, and do not add much weight to its 70 tonne capacity.
On the Botswana side of the Zambezi, the pontoon ferry completes its 400 metre journey, we climb onto the back of one of the flat-bed lorries to avoid having to trapse through the knee-deep water, and visit customs to pick up our free Botswanan visas.
As way of a change it is Bjorn's bike that is causing us problems today, his trailer needing repairs before we can set off in search of a bed for the night.
Immediately, Botswana feels and looks far more affluent and developed than anywhere else we have been in Africa. As well as this every third person has magically become white rather than black.
On Zambian Adam's advice we cycle on to Kasane and, with nearly 100 kilometres on the clock, make our base for the night at Thebe River Safaris. Several Africa overland companies are present at the camp - these are basically huge trucks cum armoured personal carriers used to transport gap year students across Africa on the cheap and with safety in mind.
In the space of 30 minutes we see more white people than we have seen in the past 5 weeks combined and, sat at the camp's bar, we watch England beat Australia in the cricket Twenty20 final.
Home for the night is Bjorn's two-man tent. As we zip up its protective inner sanctum a noise resembling a Jurrasic Park dinosaur breaks the silence from somewhere out there in the Bush.