The music had been turned up at the bar and we were at Ithumela Lodge in Palapye. Trying to concoct a risotto of some description for supper, our neighbour, a man taking soil samples for research purposes, came over to say ‘hi’. Chatting to this friendly Botswanan, he expressed his horror at South Africa and it’s politics … and he was not the first one to comment; the immigration officer at the border had also questioned the wisdom of rioting and burning schools, clinics, etc. to demand schools, clinics, etc. He was however, more interested in our cause than the SA political scene, and frankly, so are we. Handing this friendly chap a Bible ended the day on a high … we couldn’t even be put off by the late night bar tunes … Dolly Parton is still big in Africa!
With a snatch of rest snapped from between a tribute to Nashville next door, we woke to an amazing sunrise, and no water in the ablutions … Resorting to carrying a bucket from the tap on our campsite to flush the toilet, we left the lot of ‘soil sample takers’ to wander about the camp grounds dressed only in towels, waiting for the water to somehow ‘come on’. We left with unwashed faces though … again.
Exiting the lodge we made our way past the train station and the scrap yard, only to have to sneak across the train lines, slaloming between the dropped booms, since the electricity was out and the booms had dropped even though there was no train approaching … or we hoped there wasn’t. We made it out of town though, and onto the A1 … heading, Francistown.
Despite the hour, traffic had already started to pick up and the big trucks were barrelling down on us soon enough. Botswanans, for all their friendliness, pay even less head to a speed limit than South Africans do. Speeding past us at break-neck speed, some vehicles were travelling so fast as to not be able to take adequate evasive action when overtaking our back-up vehicle. They’d slide past, nearly taking the side mirror out, while appearing to hover on the road, speed reducing their traction to almost produce lift-off. The back-up driver was having a harder time of it than the cyclist out front, it seemed … you had to have eyes where the good Lord didn’t put them. At least the roads are relatively flat and the cycling went swimmingly … or should I say, cyclingly …
Swopping every half hour Suzann and I pushed for Francistown, trying to get as far as possible before the bakkie registered an outside temperature of 33 degrees. But by eleven in the morning the temperature had us beat. It becomes like a blast furnace what with the inevitable head wind that begins to pick up as the temperature soars. Without this movement of air though, you’d fry … yes, like as in boiled in oil. With the sweat drying as fast as we produced it, the crusty salt crystals clung white to our black cycle shorts and streaked our cheeks like we’d been crying table salt, we loaded the bikes a few metres from the pesky veterinary line (these criss-cross Botswana and you have to keep your wits about you to know where you can and can’t take your meat). Travelling towards Francistown seemed to be alright as we were simply waved through the check-point.
75km further, and we entered the outskirts of Francistown on a smoothly tarred, double carriage highway. But in Botswana there seem to be no freeways, so we figured we could cycle on this road. But that would have to wait until the next day.
The temperature soared at 35 degrees as we passed through the city, only dropping slightly to 34 when we turned off about 10km other side of town (on the road to Nata), to slowly hop, skip and jiggle (in all the wrong places) our way over the 7km of corrugated gravel road to Woodlands Stop-Over, our home for the next few days.
A surprised Conny met us at the gate … surprised to see cyclists, that is. Booking in she escorted us to one of their biggest sites, right under a lovely shady tree. I’m sure she could see we were fading fast, at least I was. Between mouthfuls of Coke and left-over Game, from our bike bottles, we managed to get the tent up before almost fainting away from hunger. It was lunch time, after all, and a peanut butter bun tasted like a steak … well, nearly.
Cozzies on, we took our ‘boere tanned’ selves over to the swimming pool for a ‘goef’. Boy was it like ice to dunk one’s body, but getting out … lovely! Once the body temperature had dropped, it was time for a shower, a cool shower behind the swinging saloon doors of the shower cubicles.
It was steak night at Chez Cross Africa, and the sun set to a balmy evening as the moon rose, an orange ball in the dusty sky. Woodlands was packed to the rafters and everywhere the braai fires began to burn. The smell of wood smoke and sausage began to fill the air as the stars came out, all a-twinkling in the night sky as it turned from mauve to a deep purple and finally, black.
The next morning we were up and out before ‘sparrows’. The rest of the campsite was also all moving early … most people had just spent the night. But we were first out the gate. Admittedly, we didn’t have a tent to break up, or anything to pack … just the bikes on the back. And so it was that we went jiggling back over the corrugations, all the way to the tar road, trying not to make too much dust which all eventually settles on the bikes. No-one wants to plant your tender bottom on a saddle covered with a layer of red dust … just to start making a muddy paste as you begin to sweat.
Speeding along the tar … well, if you could call 60km/h speeding … but it felt fast after the gravel, the sun began to rise a red ball in the dusty sky above Francistown. We were truly early and it was still relatively cool … good.
As we were stopped along the road on the outskirts of Francistown, two cyclists whizzed past with a wave. We hadn’t yet got the bikes off when they returned, asking if we’d like to join their ‘easy’ Sunday morning 80km ride. They were heading 40km out of Francistown, and then returning. Although we had about 70 odd kilometres to go to the veterinary line … where we’d left off the day before, we jumped at the opportunity to ride with other folks. They did ride much slower than their usual pace, obviously, taking us into account. These guys are pros when compared to us. Turned out, they were part of the local cycling club … the older of the two very obviously being an organising member, or coach, as he was cycling with one of his best guys (in his own words), telling us he wants to take this young man to the Cape Epic next year.
It was amazing riding along with these guys. They did all the hard graft and we could just coast behind in their slip. Both Suzann and I had about an hour in the saddle with these men before their 40km was up. Before waving them goodbye and safe cycling back to Francistown, we made time for a photo … there’s always time for a photo … gotta capture the memories! Amazing men, so friendly, so helpful … Phako and Sandi … thank you soo much for a truly wow ride … it was like, whoosh man.
To be truthful, if it wasn’t for these two angels in lycra, we’d have had a rather different day. It only felt like I’d started to cycle once they’d departed … now taking all of the head wind myself. Suzann had five consecutive cycling days in her legs, so coasting behind these guys was a God send. I tried to ride as far as I possibly could before handing over to Suzann. But not before I was forced to stop and swop bikes. My rear tyre had sprung a slow leak and was gradually deflating. I stopped when I started to hear the all too familiar ‘flop-flop’ of a flat tyre. Luckily I could just swop bikes and continue on Suzann’s, leaving the repairs for later … back at the campsite.
Hardly had Suzann taken over from me … about 10min, in fact … and we came up on the vet line. She was very glad, what with the tired legs. Hopping back in the vehicle, we turned around, having connected the dots, and headed back to Francistown and the Woodlands Camp. But not before filling some diesel and stopping off at the local Spar for some bread. There again we had the opportunity to give out two Bibles … one to the petrol jockey, and one to the car guard. Our supply is waning fast … a pity we could not fit in more from home.
Back at Woodlands it was time for lunch, and then a cold shower … It’s hot, and it’ll just get hotter. We’d have to get used to getting up really early. We’d also have to start watching out for wild animals along the road. Phako had warned us of a herd of elephant that frequents the road toward Nata. And not only that, apparently, due to the drought, the scavengers come out in the cool of the early morning to patrol the verge, looking for roadkill to feast on … so we’d better look out for hyenas, jackals, etc. It’s going to get interesting from here on in. But first a rest day at Woodlands.
Oh, I must just share this … due to the general lack of any good looking meat at the Spar, we had to break out the dreaded ‘Uncle Freddie’ for supper. Now what on earth is ‘Uncle Freddie’, you may ask. Well, it all stems from a Mark Lottering joke about a coloured wedding where that inevitable single ‘white’ table (the people from the work), had to be guarded over with hawk eyes to prevent that one uncle (Freddie) from bothering them. And of course, Uncle Freddie has no teeth and smacks his lips in a very camel-like manner. From this demonstration of the lip-licking uncle (thank you Mark), Suzann attempted a copy-cat camel lip, yum-yum, smacker when she first tasted the result of prepared soya mince … rehydrated from those boxes of powdery … well … stuff (for lack of a better word). Hence, soya mince of any description had become ‘Uncle Freddie’ … and mmmmmmmm, it was lip-smacking ‘lekker’!