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’.
Friday, May 14
Victoria Falls, Zambia
After Norwegian porridge, Internet and 'real' coffee we head out for Victoria Falls, regarded by many as one of the wonders of the world.
"Take your shorts and raincoat," I am told.
I take no notice, thinking the locals are being wet in every sense of the word.
Imagine the Scottish Hebrides in a November force 9 storm and you will get a sense of what it is like to walk the slippery, water-lashed path that allows you to pass just metres away from the full force of one of the world's greatest waterfalls.
Truthfully, it is a little scary if you have a fear of heights or of slippery-pathways-leading-to-a-vertical fall-and-almost-certain-death; particularly the walk over the narrow suspension bridge above part of the falls.
It is, though, an amazing, exhilarating experience and rates as a must if you are passing through this part of the world.
Sunset is an ice cold Castle by the banks of the Zambezi. The Zambezi Hotel is colonial throwback at its very best. A night of pure luxury here will set you back anything from 400-2000 dollars but non-residents can slip in and enjoy the daily 6pm near perfect sunset.
Amongst those present for another of those unforgettable African sunsets are the squad members of the Zambian National Football team. Their manager invites us over for a photo and wants to discover more about ‘The Shirt’ project. About to make plans for an impromptu kick about with the national team the following day he is suddenly whisked away to meet the country’s most famous man - the first president of an independent Zambia, . You can’t really compete with that.
Later on we join our new good-value Aussie mates, Axel and Tim, for a night out on the town with tales of snakes, scorpions and the world of ‘props‘. A brilliant laugh is had by all, but I guess you had to be there…