Day 97, stage 74, 185km
Start, Nata Lodge
Finish, Bush Camp
Life didn’t get better. The wind switched form southeast to northwest. What the F…? Who is in charge? We had been living with the southeast wind since the Sudan. The day we turn the corner the wind decides to turn as well? Not possible. Well yes it was. And today we had to do 185 to a camp in the middle of the bush – so no Whimpy’s, no Botswana bonus.
So we fought the wind until lunch. But it was still morning so it wasn’t full strength. But after lunch we got lucky. The wind started to help us. It became flukey. It wasn’t a steady, prevailing southeast wind, but it wasn’t a steady, prevailing northwest wind either. We started to get thermal winds. It would be behind us for 10km then across us, then into for 15km. It played up but it wasn’t a total disaster. In the end I think we had slightly more favourable winds than unfavourable. This was good for the legs and good for the morale.
What wasn’t so good for the morale was that we had another accident this morning. Claus, who is in his sixties and did the Tour last year, until he crashed in Kenya and broke his hip, had another accident. About 8 or 10 km out of camp this morning a big truck pulling a trailer brushed Claus and he hit the deck. It appears the truck’s trailer had swayed a bit in the wind and that is what brushed Claus. Unfortunately the driver ran. He didn’t stop. But a woman in a nearby petrol station saw what happened and went to the police station that was conveniently just across the road. The driver was caught and is probably still in jail. Claus was taken to the hospital in Maun for Xrays. The fear was that he had broken his hip again. But fortunately he didn’t. He was still in a lot of pain, with a fair bit of soft tissue damage. He is still in a wheel chair but mending well. We hope he will be able to rejoin us in Windhoek. Some people have all the luck.
Camp was in what looked like a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere. ‘nough said. There was a small collection of houses a couple of km down the road however so many of us cycled there in search of a cold drink. We found one small shop and raided it. We no longer have one or two cokes at a coke stop. After days like today we now have 4 or 5. The poor girl in the shop had to write down the details of every individual sale in a school exercise book – item code, item description, price paid. When you sell a dozen items a day that is probably manageable. When TdA descends and clears your shelves, it becomes a bit shambolic.
Day 96, stage 73, 146km
Start, Bush Camp
Finish, Nata Lodge
If you haven’t ever cycled 150 or 170 km into a headwind I suggest you don’t. It isn’t much fun. And the type of headwinds you get here get worse as the day goes on. The winds are lightest before 8am so you try to leave early and get in as many kilometres as you can before the nastiness starts. At around 8am it starts to pick up and to be a bit more of a pain in the ass. But you struggle on and get into lunch around 9:30. You feel like you’ve pushed hard but you aren’t dead or ready to throw in the towel yet. After a half hour break you get back on your bike. You immediately find that somebody has turned the wind up a couple of notches. What was tough but manageable can now make a grown man cry. It is relentless and it is going to keep going for another 80 or 100 kilometres. You want to scream at somebody – but who? and it will be a waste of energy and you know you will need all the energy you have. Beside which, your legs are already doing enough screaming as it is. Head down. Keep the pedals moving. It’s always better if you can join a peloton into a headwind. But one is not always available. Or the one that is available is too fast and you just can’t stick on the wheel. When you get one you can work with though, it helps a lot. Drafting can save 20% of your energy. But the catch is you have to spend your turn pulling. And this takes more energy than cycling on your own. I was in a good peloton until lunch but then they left before I was finished eating and I spent most of the rest of the day on my own.
The carrot was that at 137km there was supposed to be a Wimpy’s Hamburger Bar – with milkshakes (remember this is Botswana, not the Sudan – and even though you only get a town every 150km, not every 10, you do get KFC and Whimpy’s). And it existed. It was like finding an oasis.
Once again though, this was not the end of the day. The final kicker was a short 9km ride directly into a 40km headwind. Every time you stop, somebody turns up the dial a notch or two. But once again we had an all services camp site – all the mod cons and a good bar. At least we could recover. And tomorrow we headed west and hoped for a tailwind. Tough two days but life would get better. We hoped.
Day 95, stage 72, 172km
Start, Thebe Rover Lodge, Kasane, Botswana
Finish, Bush Camp
Before we headed west into Namibia we had to head southeast towards Nata. This was because we had to go around a big game reserve without adequate roads through it. From Kasane to Nata is about 320 miles. I think there is one other town between these two. So not a lot to see – except this is part of the elephant highway so we expected to see some wildlife. Taking this route also meant that we would be heading into a head wind for the whole distance to Nata. So a long day into a headwind. Great. And then added to this was about 150 km of road works in the middle of this – in fact, our camp tonight was in the bush next to the road works camp. The only thing that kept us going was the expectation that this headwind would turn into a tail wind when we turned west. But we had to get to Nata first.
It was simply a gut slog, a 10 litres of fluid day, a double dose or ORS and heavily salted soup day. We did see a few elephants at the beginning. Big deal. Vast empty spaces of nothing. There were long stretches of industrialised monoculture farms – I clocked one a 9 kilometres long. I don’t know how deep they were, but probably as deep as they were long. At any rate there were no trees in sight and therefore nothing to break the relentless wind that we cycled into. It was tough. It was boring. We had to do it again tomorrow.
The road works camp was interesting. It was in the middle of nowhere – the middle of the stretch of road works actually, but still the middle of nowhere. There was the formal part of the camp with trailers used as offices, heavy equipment everywhere and people doing things that looked like work. This was all fenced in. Beyond the fences and next to it was a more informal camp – the camp followers as it were. Here we found a little shop where we were able to buy a cold drink. There was a place where for a few Pula you could have a shower. There were a number of camping caravans parked inside compounds surrounded by mosquito netting where people had set up transient households – road works gypsies. They paid little attention to us but gave us free access to everything. A strange nomadic existence. Three or four years here and then off to another camp and another road construction project. I think you need a really good relationship with big machines to be able to live this kind of life. I am not sure if this is healthy or not.
Day 94, Stage 71, 85km,
Start, Zambezi Waterfront, Livingstone
Finish, Thebe Rover Lodge, Kasane, Botswana
We had a relatively easy ride this morning of about 70 kilometres to the Botswana border. We crossed the border on the small ferry across the Chobe River that sits at the corner of four countries – Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. There is no bridge. That would take the agreement of too many people in too many countries. So all the trucks that want to go to Botswana from Zambia without passing through Zimbabwe or Namibia line up at this border crossing and wait to get onto a ferry that can take at most two big heavy goods vehicles but most often makes the crossing with only one. A trucker can wait for two weeks. The line up tails back for many kilometres. On our bicycles, of course, we go straight to the head of the line and get onto the first ferry that docks.
We were in Kasane, where we camped for the night by noon. Botswana is relatively empty with a few larger towns. Kasane, a dozen kilometres from the ferry, is one of these few towns. But Botswana has a small and relatively affluent population. There is a SPAR Supermarket and a KFC in Kasane. So before going to camp we went into town, bought SIM cards and stocked up on cold drinks and snacks. We are still in Africa but it doesn’t feel sop African anymore. In the Sudan when you want a coke it comes in a classic old coca cola bottle that has been used and refilled a dozen times. In Botswana you get you coke in a shiny new and disposable 440ml tin. In the Sudan the warm bottle of coke that came to you out of a clay pot filled with water; in Botswana it comes to you out of the cool drinks fridge covered in advertising in a 40,000 square foot SPAR supermarket. In the Sudan the coke costs you the equivalent of about 25 cents. In Botswana it costs a dollar or more. In the Sudan you might get a sweet or a biscuit for change if you don’t have the right money (which if you do have is filthy and falling apart). In Botswana they give you the exact change in shiny new coins.
We camped today on the Chobe River at a commercial campsite, with bar, toilettes, showers, tv. The campsite offered various safaris and tours. Several of us took a Chobe River Cruise. We cruised up and then back down river for about three hours and reached the dock just after sunset. This was a very different cruise than the skin full of gin booze cruise at Livingstone. First, if you wanted a drink you had to bring your own. Second, they were serious about wildlife and a proper guide was on board. Bob and I brought what we thought were the right supplies – some popcorn and a 2 litre container of grapefruit juice. Darragh showed us the error of our ways. He had a bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum and a six pack of coke. We were happy to share our popcorn.
This was probably one of the best wildlife excursions I have ever had. Huge crocs, enormous numbers of elephants and hippos (including a recent kill on the banks of the river), impala and kudu, birds of every feather. This was all capped off by the most amazing sunset on the Chobe. Spectacular – and a fair price.