Our rest day at Woodlands turned into a shopping day when we headed into Francistown in search of the Pick’nPay. The GPS got us as far as the signboard announcing a Pick’nPay in the vicinity but then we drove ourselves into a mess of one ways that would make Durban proud. We could see where we wanted to be … but we just couldn’t get there. The nearest we could guess was a piece of dusty earth that had become a make-shift parking area … but that was for the building next door … and we weren’t truly sure if the place was a parking lot after all. Skirting the dreaded taxi rank with its myriad busses and cars (organised chaos), we ended up on the highway out of town … in the wrong direction. Spying the Spar centre where mom had purchased the rock solid bread rolls (to her disgust) the previous day, we turned across its parking and headed back for another run through the town. But even that did not help us figure out where to actually access the elusive Pick’nPay. So we tracked back to the Spar in the hope that we’d possibly get fresh bread after the weekend … and we did … and some good looking meat as well. There’d be chicken and potatoes with a side of mixed veg and cheese sauce on the supper menu later.
Supper was delicious and I ate far too much. Later that night I would suffer some nasty stomach cramps for my indulgence. That was surely why, when I finally nodded off, I overslept in the morning. But I wasn’t the only one. I wonder what mom and Suzann’s excuse was. Anyway, we’d overslept … but only by 15 minutes. Waking up with such an adrenaline injection saw mom hastily rushing off to her morning ablutions while Suzann and I stuffed sleeping bags and deflated beds like it was a competition. Everything was progressing swiftly enough until we had to load the bikes … Uh-oh … one bike’s back tyre was completely flat … It must’ve deflated overnight since it had seemed in order when we turned in. Wondering if one of the crowd from the raucous overland truck that had pulled in late the previous evening had not thought it an enormous joke to deflate the tyre in the night, we rushed to find the pump to inflate it again. I can tell you … we did not find this in the least funny at all … but it turned out there was indeed a slow puncture in the tube and it wasn’t the overlanders after all … sorry, sorry!
After the morning’s trouble we got on the road later than anticipated. I was up first and I was worried … The road has no shoulders and it carries much traffic (trucks from the border) and with the way the Botswanans drive, well … This wasn’t even to mention the added threat of wildlife encounters on the side of the road. Suffice it to say, I went off like a fire cracker, trying to break the land speed record on my bicycle. Afterward, Suzann said there were stretches where she was cruising at 50km/h behind me. The road was conducive to such riding though … Botswana is flat as a pancake. Flat roads are great, you’d think, but you have to keep cranking the pedals all the time … no respite, no freewheel downhill, so I was knackered by the time Suzann took over. Seeing my nervousness, Suzann thought it wise to emulate my breakneck rush … to put me at ease … apparently. And so she cranked off into the distance, screaming through the open scrubland with its stunted, leafless trees and long yellow grass covering spots of orange-red ground … the rest being hard-baked by the relentless sun in this seriously dry, dry season in Botswana.
Swopping again … twice … and the ride time decreased in length, taking the ever increasing temperature into account, we had to make a few extra stops as well. First my front tyre blew and I limped to the side of the road where we decided not to attempt a change but to swop bikes and complete the day on Suzann’s. Strapping my bike to the stand, we were just about to set off when we realised that Suzann’s back tyre was a little soft … the one with the slow puncture, we later discovered. There was nothing for it but to take my bike off the stand again to open the back of the vehicle where the tyre pump was stashed. Mom holding the bikes, balancing on the sloping verge, checking for wildlife while being buffeted by the backdraught from passing 18-wheelers … we managed to scratch out the pump and put some extra air into Suzann’s tyre. My bike back on, pump inside the vehicle this time, we headed off again. But we’d have to stop again to add air to the slowly leaking back tyre. Just when this was becoming tedious, the temperature hit 33 degrees and we decided to call it a day.
We were still about 60km shy of Nata but figured we could return to do the distance the next day. That was until we hit the first of two vet stops we’d pass through that day. Passing through from south to north we were OK, but it was a rude awakening to discover that if we backtracked to complete the distance the next day, we’d be travelling from north to south, and that is not OK. All our much needed protein would be confiscated and there was no way to leave it at the campsite without taking the entire fridge out of the vehicle where it’s mounted. That was simply too much. So we made the rather difficult decision not to backtrack and rather live to eat meat another day. It was my birthday the next day after all, and I wasn’t going to give up my steak Suzann had promised to braai for me.
So there we were, at Nata Lodge, in the deep black sand of the sparsely shaded campsite under the ilala palms (now looking a bit worse for wear in the drought). At least the bird sanctuary at the main lodge still had a bit of greenery all around the inviting blue of the swimming pool. The European tourists lay spread-eagled on deck chairs like tanned kippers, each with a book or a phone, using the free Wi-Fi, much like us (using the Wi-Fi, not tanning like kippers, that is).
My birthday dawned and it was a scorcher. We did bike maintenance in the cool of the morning, with bike tipped onto the handlebars and saddles, resting on the only solid surface in the campsite … the braai pit. We changed all the flats and even rotated Suzann’s tyres … the rear tyre was running down faster.
Feeling super accomplished, we headed to the lodge for a birthday lunch of cheesecake and coke. They only had desert sized portions of cheesecake, but it was good, none the less. And added bonus … the birds got both my mother and I … She got it all down her back, and me … on the toe! At first she asks, ‘who’s throwing me with something?’ … and then we see it! That bird must’ve put some extra compression on to hit with such force! But Suzann had already got her dose the day before. If you believed in luck, we’d be the luckiest people on earth!
The birdie, well … accident, sent us back to the tent, and the heat … Eventually we resorted to hauling the chairs around the campsite, moving from shady spot to shady spot, but it was 38 degrees … in the shade! Unable to stand it anymore, we went planing through the sand like cross country skiers, minus the poles, heading … the double volume thatch cool of the main lodge. It’s hard to believe, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were shivering … me sitting with a beanie strapped around my foot with insulation tape … the only way to keep it from getting frostbite while still accommodating for my, then still heavily bandaged big toe. But this was not before we had to change Suzann’s back tyre … again. We noticed the flat on our return from the lodge and tried to re-inflate it, but the air just poured out the valve. Turned out that the entire valve had ripped out of the inner tube!
In the cool of the evening we could return to our campsite … steak time! I was delegated the chip making, and I got the oil bubbling and boiling, and tossed the potatoes in. I fried and fried and fried … but to no avail. Afterwards the steak was done but my chips were a soggy mess of oil-soaked mash that had proceeded to catch on the bottom of the pot. I don’t know why … but the chips just wouldn’t work, and I eventually had to give it up for a joke. We had to toss the lot and open a packet of beetroot salad instead. And I was so looking forward to steak and chips …
Having made the decision to simply continue on from Nata towards Elephant Sands, rather than backtrack, we had to make another plan when Suzann started to complain of an eye … It looked as if she was coming down with a bacterial conjunctivitis, and her eye was itchy-scratchy and watery, making everything blur … and the wind didn’t do it any good either. So I would have to take up the slack now … well, not more than fair, since she’d done so for me with my toe incident.
The following morning saw me cranking away along the road to Elephant Sands in a gale of a side wind. Eventually, Suzann took to driving alongside me when no other traffic was coming, to shelter me from the wind a bit. The 40 odd k’s I managed felt more like a 140km. I had to call it a day at 10am, just 8km shy of Elephant Sands, since we still had to drive on to Kasane so that Suzann could get to a pharmacy for eye ointment. One doesn’t neglect an eye! We’d just have to return to Elephant Sands and then begin again … heading Kasane.
Arriving at Chobe Safari Lodge at the very end of Kasane town, we got such a lovely, shady site, and the showers (rain showers) were soo great, we spontaneously decided not to return to Elephant Sands but rather just complete the required distance of 230 odd kilometres by cycling out and back from Kasane, direction Pantamatenga … twice. And so it was … We did our first 90km to Pandamatenga in an incredible gale … headwind, side wind … wind from every direction except from behind. I could hardly let go of the handlebars to take a drink! And this was all the way through wildlife area. The eyes of the backup vehicle had to be peeled. A quick hoot would be the sign … but when I hooted to make Suzann aware of an elephant up ahead, she promptly stopped right in front of the bakkie, so much so that I had to swerve out into the oncoming lane slightly. As luck would have it another car was barrelling down on me from behind as well. Thank goodness he saw what was happening and could take evasive action and sweep around me. Suffice it to say, when Suzann hooted for me, I just slowed and took a good look as to where the elephants actually were. Turned out, there was a herd in the bush just off the road. I cranked those pedals furiously to pass them as quickly as I could though.
A good day of riding ended with yet another flat. Suzann’s front tyre went, but she was able to complete on my bike. But when we strapped the bikes to the stand, the flat tyre caused the bike to wobble precariously. All we could do was change the inner tube right there on the side of the road … in the wildlife area. And now the wind would die down and the sun baked down on us so much so, it felt like my skin was bubbling. But we got the tyre changed and bikes loaded, and even swung by the local Toyota dealership to book Hamilton, our trusty Hilux, in for its 80 000km service. Wonder above wonders, the service manager remembered us from our trans-Africa trip two years ago (then just with the bakkie though … no bikes). Feme, you beauty! She squeezed us in despite being incredibly busy servicing all the local game vehicles from Chobe and all the lodges around here.
A rest day is on the cards before we take on the road to Pandamatenga … again! We have to complete the distance we’d have otherwise cycled all the way from Elephant Sands, well as near as ‘damn it’ is to swearing, as my gran used to say … otherwise we’d feel a bit of a cheat. Then Hamilton has to go to see Dr. Feme at Toyota, and then it’s the dreaded Kazungula border, aaaahhhhh !!!!!!!