Monday, August 27, 2012

Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 23 - 29

Botswana Cycle Tour - The final 7 days...

Day 23
Part of our agreement with Ngepi's management on check-in was, that they organize us a lift back to the tar road through the 4km of thick sand, which they obliged to ...

Although after about 2km of tar road we hit some miserable dirt for the next 20 clicks to the border, through the Mahaungu Core area of the Bwabwata National Park.

We re-entered Botswana and enjoyed our last 3 or so km of tar road before reaching the Muhembo Ferry that crosses the Okavango River at the top of the pan handle. Fortuitously at the very moment of our arrival, the ferry docked for a quick 1½ hour service to the two engines, so we were forced to settle down under a Jackalberry tree for a lunch of deep fried bream and coke.

The fun and games really started as we pedalled off the ferry for the start of about 90km of corrugations, thick sand and potholes ... And since that was not enough to lift our spirits, a dash of head wind was added to the mix. We pedalled with 3 young guys on old bicycles (of varying shapes and sized), quickly learning through heat, sweat and near crashes just how to 'read' this really crappy dirt road. After 20km of this brain rattling fun we took an elephant path off the road to scratch out a campsite under some trees. Once again just after dark the gentle, but noisy giants put in their appearance.

Day 24
For our last day of cycling we had saved 71km of even more deteriorating dirt road ... What gave us a little boost of energy, apart from the cup of sugar we bought from Gertrude's Spaza shop, was twice being chased by packs of wild eyed, salivating 'village bitches' (ie: dogs) ... Forget steroids, there's nothing like the fear of being bitten by a rabid looking pack of canids, to get your performance up!

Following our encounter with the domestics we chatted with the local missionary from Seronga , a guy by the name of Willie, who offered us the use of his garden for camping. Turns out he also had hot showers and flush toilets - quite nice after 71km of dirt & sand where you actually enjoy the corrugated sections!!

Spent the late afternoon running important errands in the village of Seronga, like Johan getting his hair cut and picking up a strap of beef fillet for R12.92?! Ok, the butchery itself has room for improvement in terms of cleanliness and produce display etc ... But the meat was good.

Ended our last cycling day having a sundowner with Phillip (a Zimbabwean) on the cool shady steps of Mark's Bar - a shebeen across the road from Willie the missionary.

Day 25
For the last time we loaded and strapped our bikes for the 3km pedal to the jetty ... The thick Botswana sand had the last say - the final 500m was an exceptionally thick sandy push ...

Day 26 - 29
The last 5 days has been a treacherous haul through croc infested swamp, swarming with all manner of biting insects, murderous hippos around every bend, and nights filled with the horrific sounds of blood thirsty lion and hyena ...

Ok ... so there was also a boat loaded with cold beers, braai meat and fishing tackle! ... And the tiger fish and nemwe have been biting like they have never seen a lure before ... And the islands are filled with impossibly large trees and lush palms, but really, this Okavango Delta is no place for the faint hearted ... please stay well away!!

In all seriousness, Ian Clark has been a great guide on the Okavango Delta and knows this place like the back of his hand ... Tomorrow we arrive in Maun for our respective flights and drive back home ... And so ends an epic month.

Thanks Peter for taking the time and driving us to the start, and to Esna for uploading this blog over the last few weeks. Thanks to Anna-Lee, Petru, Lize and Cindy for keeping your eyes on the ball at work! ... And most importantly, Derynne and Jenny (our much better halves), I think we owe you one!!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 18 - 22

Botswana Cycle Tour - Day 18 to 22

Day 18
Once again, after running out of excuses to linger any longer at Mabalaza Island Lodge we loaded our bikes onto the boat for the ride back to another 3km sandy push up to the main road. On crossing the Kwando River (heading west) you enter the Bwabwata National Park, home for the next 3 nights. Our target for the day a mindless 30 odd km. Two German bikers (named Osca und Zilvia) heading in the opposite direction, stopped to fire the usual questions at us: 'Vhere are you going, und vhy?', followed by, 'vould you like zome vwater?'

By mid afternoon and by pure luck we discovered a big pan with good water and many elephants in attendance - a little over half a km off the road. Being very heavily utilized by ele, roan, bushpig, buffalo and other game, there were big paths approaching the pan from all points of the compass. It took some scratching to find a secure area, wooded enough and a safe distance from the pan and the many ele paths.

Eventually we settled amongst 2 or 3 large trees, that formed a decent island in the traffic. Just after sunset we struck up a conversation, and became good mates with two of these trees. To the point of rekindling our passion for tree climbing - a sport that has been dead for about 30 years now ... This had nothing to do with the breeding herd of eles that approached us to within 10 or 12 meters, and stood watching us with those wise old eyes, before skirting us at a little over spitting distance ... That night around the fire, our torch lights swung around, a bit like two lighthouses as more and more eles passed this side and that!

Day 19  Being such an awesome spot we dragged the morning through a few cups of coffee and a short game walk, while even more elephant came down to drink. Eventually spilling out onto the tar road at about 12pm for a 48km day. We set up camp in some big Miombo woodland about 4km north of the road, in an area frequented by some rather large solitary bull elephants, but little else. There is no water this time of the year, on this 200km stretch between Kwando and Okavango Rivers. The ele traffic that does exist, seems to move on a north - south axis along corridors, between Angola to the north and Okavango to the south.

Day 20  Today we decided to take pedaling a little more seriously, and pushed a further 85km of dead straight Caprivi tarmac. We stopped at Omega III, one of the two 'settlements' on the strip, for an interesting chat to Vasco Pieter Muyambango the proprietor of the shop 'Control 4now 4eva' ... naturally, he sells cooking oil, warm cokes, matches and other important items.

We pedalled until an hour before sunset, then turned south on a new dirt track into the bush, to discover 3 field rangers (game scouts) saundering up the track, armed with their limb lobbing axes. Two Boesman and one Owambo ... the one Boesman was too old to remember his age and down to about 1 tooth, while the other two were let's say, more current. After a protracted negotiation on where we could sleep, we made a date for coffee and rusks in the morning at our fire.

Day 21  Just after sunrise the two, axe armed Boesman rangers, arrived at our fire for coffee ... the Owambo ranger opted for a lie in!? Interesting guys, the old ballie has many stories under his belt ... his wrinkles crease with a quick sense of humour. We hit the last 60km to the Okavango River with a semi decent tail wind, stopping only to repair the blow out I had in my rear tyre ... (Continental Town & Country semi slicks, look way better than they perform ... one of Johan's gave up the ghost after just 400 odd km). Johan, being very eager to get rid of the 'extra heavy duty' spare tyre he had dragged around for the last 10 days, was forced to carry it another 20 clicks when we discovered that the over weight piece of Chinese rubber was too big for any of our wheels - despite it's size indicating otherwise! Duct tape and a piece of old tube, gave the blown out tyre another 20kms of good service, until out of the bush on the left appeared a container bike shop?! ... here we did some buying and selling, and rode off with a 'new-used' nobbly purring on the tar.

Finally reached the Okavango River at Divundu for a healthy plate of deep fried chicken & chips, chased by the obligatory cold coke. The last 4km of the day was a push through thick sand to Ngepi Camp on the Okavango River - a funky little place with a great signage all over, and some good toilet humour. If the Popa Falls area is ever on your route, it would be wrong not to stay here!

Day 22  is a feet up day, with a few cold beers and some vacant staring ... Tomorrow we re enter Botswana for the last 2 cycle days to Seronga.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 13 - 17

Johan and Howard's Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 13 to 17

Day 13
Over the last 5 days we have had a little exposure to the diverse Caprivi culinary habits, which has varied from hacking a slab rump from a cow carcass hung under an umbrella thorn, to dining on good old fashioned Namibian 'gekookte kos'!

On day 13 we left the Zambezi River for the town of Katima Mulilo and settled in for breakfast at the Boabab Bistro - clearly a watering hole for the local Katima 'tannies' that flow in and out for 'intelligence' swopping purposes over endless cups of coffee ...

We decided to take a 185km loop road (over 3 nights) that dips south and west through the 'teaspoon' of the Caprivi and passes Mamili and Mudumu National Parks. 116km of this is dirt - a mix of solid old Namibian dirt roads (now breaking up), and then sections under 'repair' by the Chinese, that seem to have taken to the African way of sitting on the road side (under those big paddy field hats), watching a grader pushing mounds of soil around. Distance for the day was 60km.

Day 14
Day 14 we woke to frozen water bottles (so, yes that cold front did reach us). It was Johan's birthday so hence our effort to up our game when it came to the dinner menu ... While our water bottles were solidifying at 4am, 5km down the road a 9 year old cow met a bitter end. By the time we arrived at the spot, limbs and rib cages were hanging neatly off an Acacia tortilis. It made perfect sense to splash out and buy a fat piece of rump for Johan's birthday dinner. So N$10 and a dirty choppies packet later, we pedalled off a little heavier laden. We left the road and after missioning 4km through thick sand, under the direction of a medulla from Selonga Village, and powered partly by two x 1 pikanin powered engines, we reached the edge of the Linyanti Swamps.

Sadly the rump steak that was suppose to be the highlight of our day, bounced between teeth much like a cheque from the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank ... After some determined chewing, it finally bounced off the braai grid and into the bush for the hyeans!

Day 15
Day 15 started with a 4km grind & push through the thick sand (w/o our pikanin powered engines) back to the main road. Keeping our conservation values high we naturally carted the last 2 days rubbish with us, with the intention of disposing it at the next village. We pedalled alongside a 12 year old boy by the name of Colin, who was lifting his younger brother on the cross bar. After rattling along the dirt road for about 10km we reached the turn off to Sangwali Village, where Colin assured us of many luxuries. 5km and 1 elephant later we arrived at the village and made for the cool shady steps of a Spaza shop. After a cold coke and a 'vet koek' we asked the lady if she could dispose of our well travelled rubbish. She very kindly said that she would ... 2 min later, while sitting on the said shady steps, our Choppies rubbish packet came whirring through the air to land in a puff of dust 10m away! Funny, but sad ...

We pedalled onto the Mudumu National Park and took a very well beaten elephant path south off the road to look for a campsite. This ele path was so heavily utilized, we were able to cycle on the layer of trodden dung despite the soft sand. We set up camp about 1km off the road and respectable distance off all obvious game paths. What followed was one of the more elephant induced nights of insomnia, both us us have experienced! They started coming past our tent around 8pm but because of our voices and the cooking fire, kept a breathable distance ... But after we turned in, herd after herd practically blundered through our site trumpeting and vocalizing as they crashed through the Mopane sometimes meters away ...

Needless to say, neither of us were even slightly scared.

Day 16
Day 16 we pushed the last 55km of dirt to join the Caprivi highway for a cold Russian sausage, some deep fried chicken & chips. We then rolled down the Kwando River, took 10 min boat ride complete with our bikes and some overseas tourists, downstream to Mabalaza Island Lodge for 2 nights of hot water, cold beer, good Namibian food and of course a spot of fishing.

Day 17
Day 17 as it stands now has been populated with 2 pike, 1 bream, half a dozen beers, some bike & equipment maintenance and a cramp in both my thumbs, because I have just typed these last 5 days on a Blackberry! Cheers!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 11 & 12

Johan and Howard's Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 11 & 12

Day 11
Met one or two of the old Kasane stalwarts last night at the Old House Restaurant & Guest House. A happening little place where the locals tend to gravitate. Day 11 started with probably the steepest climb yet ... A 1.5km granny gear climb up the plateau that overlooks the Chobe River - even had to take my jersey off.

Today was also possibly the easiest 94km we covered, this being because we were forced to hitch a ride on the back of a truck throught the Chobe National Park for 57km to Ngoma Border. The game guard at the west end of the transit road was somewhat disillusioned when together we did the maths and discovered he'd been working here for 17 years and not the 12 years he had thought! He did see the humor, but was truly surprised. From here we entered Namibia's Caprivi, pulled over at a local eatery for pap & steak (staple diet) and a quick thrashing in pool by 2 of the local bar flies - these okes were sharp!

Pulled in at a roadside bike mechanic to see if they could perform some magic on Johan's ailing bike ... We arrived with 2 of his top gears not working and left with a new rim and 2 of his middle gears not working ... But nice people nonetheless. Spent the night at Salambala community campsite about 6km ride down a dirt track that winds through a mopane forest. Really cool campsite, each site with its own private hot shower , toilet, braai, in the bush, still in elephant counry - worth a visit.

Day 12
Day 12 started with another 6km of winding sand track back to the tar road, for 64 uneventful kms, except for 1 chop who tried to ride us off the road ... That was followed by 2 German self-drive tourists who pulled over in front of us, full of smiles and amazement, that after our road side chat insisted on issuing us with a bottle of red wine and a litre of fruit juice - cool people!

Reached the Zambezi River just short of Katima Mulilo for a night at a manicured campsite overlooking the river.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Boswana Cycle Trip - Day 8, 9 & 10

Johan and Howard's Botswana Cycle Trip - Day 8

A Saturday filled with road works and that steady NE headwind again, it just doesn't let go ... we kept ourselves entertained by watching the different teams work their different layers onto the new road ... Our afternoon tea break, normally a kettle on a small fire under a tree, was replaced by 4 bitterly cold cokes in a Pandamatega Shebeen and an interesting chat with the owner, Matthews.

This followed by another conversation next door with Elvis & Simon. Elvis a worried looking individual (also on a bike), who just couldn't get his head around our cycle ... "Ah, you are troubling yourselves, he said."

Simon a man of many years and hardly any teeth, is an ex BDF soldier, game scout and I strongly suspect a freelance poacher. However, he was also the first person to admit that the wild animals have got no problems - just people got the problem!

After completing 96km we dissappeared into the bush north of Pandamatenga to an awesome camp site under 2 huge trees, very clearly a regular elephant siesta spot!

Day 9

Day 9 started like any other, kettle on the fire and rusks in hand, followed by the obligatory boskak. Mine was cut short by 2 bull elephants that put in an unexptected appearance at possibly THE most inconvenient moment ...

Needless to say, on that session, I evacuated both my bowel and the area. Turns out a single bull ele had whispered through our campsite while we were lights out!

Another 96km later and lots of eles we trundled into Kazangula for another 4 cold cokes and the short pedal to Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, for our second shower and first night in a bed!

Day 10

Today we chill ... Our first rest day and it was filled with shopping and sorting kit. Have had to vacate our room for a campsite also at Chobe Safari Lodge. Tomorrow we hit the transit road through Chobe National Park and into Namibia's Caprivi Strip, which from where I am typing this looks like one vast floodplain!