Day 74 – 77

So we stayed at Chembe Eagle’s Nest another day, and I rested, but Suzann wouldn’t allow me to cycle until my resting heart rate was satisfactory, in her professional opinion. Hence, it would be her out front on the bike, heading for Senga Bay.

Despite the fact that we left quite early from Chembe, she could only start cycling considerably later. This was because Chembe was actually a bit out of the way but we had decided to include it on the itinerary since it’s just such a super place to stay. We had to head back towards the M5 that would take us north along the lake.

By the time Suzann got going the temperature had already reached 30 degrees. With the rainy season looming, the humidity is steadily increasing, making the real feel about 5 degrees hotter. Pumping the pedals against a steadily increasing head wind, Suzann finally had to call it a day after an hour or so’s ride. Settling in the passenger seat, we turned the air-con up and directed all the vents in the dash onto her positively dripping body. Soon she was feeling better but we decided to complete the remaining distance to Senga Bay in the vehicle … it was only getting hotter and muggier.

Arriving at the Safari Lodge we were told that their campsite was in the middle of an upgrade, hence there would be no shade or kitchen facilities, and from what we could see of the bathroom, it was no great shakes either. The deciding factor was however the very large baboon that had decided to settle himself on the bonnet of the bakkie and bare his teeth at poor old mom. Boy was she glad when we returned with the news that we’d have to go in search of other accommodation for the night.

Heading for the other campsite we’d been told about, we zig-zagged through the narrow alleys between the mud brick houses and shanties of the village. It was still early but happy hour was already in full swing and the local taverns were making a roaring trade, with patrons spilling out into the sandy road we came bumping along. Everyone was shouting and reaching out for the vehicle, in an attempt to make us stop, but Suzann was having none of that … she just kept going. That was until the local kids started to run after the bakkie and try to hang onto the bikes. This was getting a bit dangerous, but finally we came up on the gates of the campsite. After some hooting and me having to get out to check the gate … it was locked … someone finally appeared to open up. But oh dear, driving in we just knew … this is not the place for us … and after being shown the ablutions … Well, there was no way we’d be spending the night there, not with the cloud of flies swirling out above the toilet doors, such as they were, and the man showing us hastily closing some dodgy-looking doors as we passed by. Suffice it to say, we moved on quick-smart.

This would eventually leave us with no other option than to take a room in Blue Waters Hotel for the night. A lovely place is the Blue Waters, popular with all manner of aid workers as well, since as far as the eye could see, the parking area was filled with white Land Cruisers labelled with anything from USAid to the UN …

Our room was very comfortable and of course, we were overjoyed to see a working air-con. Well, it worked to keep the place cool but had been installed in a rather odd fashion as the water constantly dripped from it, running down the wall and collecting in a big puddle on the floor. We didn’t mind the puddle for the lovely cool atmosphere the device provided, making us sleep like babies despite the fact that the mattresses could, at best, be described as upholstered planks … at least everything was clean.

The place’s menu also let them down somewhat, but they offered us some fried chicken and chips … recognizable food for us … and it was good.

Sitting in the pier restaurant, built to resemble a boat, we could look out over the lagoon the lake made. The local cow herd was chasing his animals through the narrow mouth of the lagoon. This was the first time in my life that I ever saw cows swimming. And still sitting thus, staring out at the spectacle, a piece of cake suddenly appeared before us … The kindly gentleman at the table next door was having a birthday and the Sri-Lankan chef had baked him a cake which he had decided to share with all the staff and other patrons of the restaurant … what an amazingly kind gesture … and we were so longing for a ‘koekerige dingetjie’ …

The following morning Suzann deemed me fit for cycling again if I promised to take it easy out front. I would take the first turn to gauge how I was feeling, if good, I’d try to do 45 minutes, otherwise no longer than 30 minutes in the heat … here its 30 degrees at 8am already. But I was feeling good and there was a bit of a breeze to cool things down so I took my turns, all three of them, with gusto. Consequently, we’d complete over 80km to Fish Eagle Bay Lodge, swapping every 30-45 minutes to cool down in the air-conditioned car.

Arriving at Fish Eagle Bay, we’d run into the owners on their way out to town but were told the manager could sort us out. With this stop along the access road some locals from a house over the way came over to ask if we had a Bible for them. Thank goodness we still have a few left and could give one to these friendly folks as well.

Jumping to the task, Fish Eagle Bay’s manager gathered a group of men about him and armed with rakes they headed for the beach campsite. We’d have to wait a little while for them to clear all the leaves from the sand. Apparently they had much wind in the past few days that had shaken the leaves from the trees, littering the beach and of course the 4X4 campsite on it as well. While waiting we deflated the tyres a bit, taking all precaution not to get stuck in the deep sand. But we had nothing to worry about since we made it right to the private gazebo on the beach where we’d put our tent up in the sand … all be it in low-range.

The campsite is amazing … literally on the beach with the waves of the lake lap-lapping at the shore a few meters in front of us. I took an afternoon snooze in the tent with an uninterrupted view of the water over my toes … But the ablutions again let this place down a bit. Solar powered only, this lodge is green but the water is still just lukewarm … not a problem in the heat, but we had to strip ourselves from sticky sunscreen and warmer water does help somewhat. Well I suppose if the water was any hotter we’d have expired in the place with its low corrugated iron roof, a sauna if there ever was one …

That evening we’d sit out on the beach looking out at the nearly full moon glistening on the dark water before turning in to the soft lap-lap of the little waves on the beach. But we’d wake in the middle of the night to a gale. The infamous south wind had come up out of no-where and it was threatening to blow us away … tent and all. The sand was raining in through the mesh screen of the tent door so I decided to try and close the canvas as well. Struggling out of the tent into the teeth of the gale, I stood my ground to unclip the canvas door roll. But instead of rolling down, the wind ripped the flap out of my hands and threw it over the dome of the tent like a windsock. All I could get out was, ‘there it goes!’ Trying desperately to man-handle the errant piece of canvas down to get the zip to engage, it wasn’t long before again … ‘there it goes!’ Laughing hysterically, Suzann had to get up to come and help hold the thing down so that I could zip it into place. But oh what a bad idea that turned out to be. Now the wind had extra resistance to push against and even greater purchase in its attempt to blow us over. We quickly had to unzip and re-roll the front flap. We’d just have to be make do with the raining sand if we wanted to keep our tent whole.

The next morning the wind was still blowing, even stronger, if you can believe that. No-one had slept very well. It was like trying to sleep in a wind tunnel. Everything was covered with a layer of sand. Sand crunched under my teeth and there was sand in my hair and in my sleeping bag … But oh, how to break camp in the gale. Mom had the task of hanging onto the tent by one of the poles, preventing it from lifting off as we carried everything out. The lighter the structure became, the tighter she had to hang on. Finally empty, we unclipped the canvas from the pole structure, stepping on the collapsing tent to get it to drop. The wind had blown it up like a balloon and Suzann had to sit on the thing, squatting like a frog, hopping a bit further down every time I rolled. At the same time mom was hanging on to the other end of the tent as I rolled, trying desperately to prevent the wind from lifting it and blowing the entire canvas sausage over Suzann’s little frog-like figure. But we got the tent into its bag, and its bag into the car, and the car off the beach, but we couldn’t cycle in these conditions. The lodge owners had warned us as well and so we would have to drive to the next stop, Ngala Beach.

On the way to Ngala Beach we saw why we’d been prevented from attempting to cycle. The road was chopped up in many gravel bypasses, so badly marked that we ended up missing a turn and nearly driving into a massive ditch … the road just ended. Struggling, Suzann did a 1000 point turn and the locals yelled and directed us to the right road. Then when the tar returned it was so badly eaten away on the verge that the road was really just the width of a single lane, and here the sugar cane trucks have right of way … These guys just come barrelling down on you and you have no other choice than to fall down off the tar on the gravel verge centimeters below. And finally, the rain came …

Arriving at Ngala Beach in the rain we were fortunate enough to be able to check into a room at 9:30 the morning. Now we could have a shower and get some breakfast, neglected with the harrowing ordeal of the wind and sand storm of the morning. But the shower would be a strange affair with the water suddenly stopping altogether, just when you’re full of soap suds … and then starting up again after a few minutes. At least the warmish water came back for Suzann and I, mom wasn’t so fortunate … hers gave out completely, necessitating she rinse the soap off with cold water. At least we got a good old hamburger and chips for lunch, yum!

Everything was fine, mom and Suzann went for a walk along the lake while I took a snooze … They even found out from the locals what the dark layer at the water’s edge we’d noticed, was. Apparently the south wind brings little organisms out of the lake and its these, and pollution of course, that makes this black spongy layer … and the stuff stinks like rotting fish. There was someone from the lodge that was making a half-hearted attempt at sweeping it all up since the smell reached the lodge on the breeze, but they weren’t really making a dent in it. One would need to go at it with a spade and scoop up a layer of sand with the spongy blackness.

As night approached though, the bugs began to come out … There was a positively enormous spider in the thatch over the toilet … We thought it wouldn’t move but thank goodness I’d marched out in my pj’s, past the smart lodge reception to the carpark to fetch the bottle of Doom to deal with a cockroach earlier. In fact, there were so many bugs in the extra beds that we all three ended up sleeping in the one bed that was best. Anyway, with the mozzie net packed down with shoes and bags, we switched off the light, thinking that any bugs would land on the net and not on us, not taking into account the ones that could crawl in under the net … like the large spider …

Getting up and crawling out under the mozzie net, I headed for the toilet, but not before looking up to see where the spider was. Now, a spider unseen is far worse than a spider seen … and I could no longer see it. Taking another step, I nearly stood on top of the gigantic thing that had obviously dropped out of the roof and was on his way to the bed, across the floor. I screamed, it scurried back into the bathroom and mom and Suzann were up like shots. Yelling for a pair of shoes and the Doom, of course, I gingerly headed for the bathroom only to encounter the hairy thing against the shower wall. Spraying Doom as if my life depended on it, I jumped back into the room as he fell and headed towards me. Yelling and spraying I finally had him subdued, but what to do with a gigantic spider in its last death throes? Mom yelled from the safety of the bed beyond the mosquito net, ‘step on it!’ But I was not about to do that. Instead, I remembered the umbrella in the cupboard I’d spied earlier. Armed with the brollie as a make-shift golf club, I chipped the spider ball out the door and gave a last swing at it, teeing off from the edge of the stoep. Where it fell, we’d only discover the next morning, but at least we were rid of that particular creepy-crawly, now just to wonder, ‘what else is in here with us?’ With that thought I hastily dived back under the mozzie net.

With the roof fan spinning at the rate of a Boeing 747 just before take-off, we lay buffeted by the wind that was steadily pushing the tiny gnats on the top of the net through the holes and onto us. At least it was just little ‘miggies’. The jet engine fan wouldn’t be able to push a spider through, we hoped. Trying to turn the fan speed down, we discovered that it was max or bust, so we’d have to deal with the wind, and the ‘miggies’, of course …

Suffice it to say, none of us had a particularly good sleep that night and were all too glad to see the sun rise.

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