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.
Friday, May 7
We pass the brand new Chinese-built parliament building due for completion any time soon. It is rather reminiscent of the kinds of impressive but rather monstrous constructions that you find in Astana, Kazakhstan. Lilongwe itself resembles a giant, slightly unkempt park or wood with embassies, lodges, residential compounds, banks and NGOs. From the capital’s rooftops huge, oddly-shaped mountains,
that puts one in mind of Ayres Rock, soar out of the almost flat horizon.
At 10am, Malawi’s lone state television channel, MNC, the country’s leading newspapers (The Nation and the Malawi Daily Times) and the top independent radio channel, Zodiac, arrive for a press conference arranged by the Lilongwe UNHCR and run by Bjorn and I.
Bjorn is a very good public speaker. All those present seem to enjoy the presentation and by the end of it we have appeared on Malawian State TV in front of 4 million, and another significant share of the country’s 14 million population will have heard our message through the papers and radio.
What else can I tell you about Lilongwe? The country has been independent since 1964. An obvious British-influence still remains. In 1989 it was home to more refugees than anywhere else on earth: 1.2 million were guests of the Malawian government as a result of the civil war in Mozambique at that time.
Supermarket prices here are absurd - often 2-3 times the prices of goods in the UK. The biggest bank note in general circulation is the 5000 kwacha, worth slightly more than 2 pounds.
After the press conference and several hours of blogging and press communication to Europe and South Africa we return home to Kuka Lodge for an evening of home comforts. The excellent local support of the UNHCR has enabled us to make the most of our visit to Lilongwe.
Wednesday, April 14
Did my first cycle of the trip through Nairobi city centre as I needed to take Bjorn's bike down to the central train station 4 hours ahead of our train to Mombasa. Took a Matatsu back to the hostel and then a car to Wilson Airport where fortunately Bjorn's UN plane landed on time after spending a day at the Dadaab Refugee Camp on the Somali border.
After crawling through the notorious Nairobi rush hour traffic we managed to make it in time for our train to Mombasa.
Used planes, trains, cars, vans, minibuses and a bike to get through the day. Settled down to dinner on the overnight train where Bjorn told me about conditions in the refugee camp. Those that live there will probably never go home. There are 270,000 of them - 98% Somali. They can escape to the refugee camp, risk a boat to Yemen or, as IDPs (Internally displaced persons) take their gamble in the anarchy of Somalia.