Day 57 – 58

Well, the 130km down in the direction of Pandamatenga … again, did not go as smoothly as planned. Don’t get me wrong, we had no major incidents but I was exhausted. Suzann of course, doesn’t know when to quit. Although the dreaded wind was much less, the heat got us. I tried my best to keep going, and took my turns bravely, but when we reached Pandamatenga and the turn-around point, I was ready to stop in the 33 degree heat. Suzann just wanted an energy bar and kept insisting we try and make it further than our 90km of the previous Panda road stint. At that moment we were sheltering in the vehicle to escape the myriad minute flies that bother more and more as the temperature begins to sky rocket. I just lost it, gobbled my energy bar, and jumped out of the bakkie, yelling, ‘you’d better get behind the wheel, ’cause I’m going!’ Yanking the bike up from its roadside rest, I didn’t even wait for the tape measure to adjust the saddle height (we’d had to resort to riding one bike again as Suzann’s bike’s front tyre had sprung a leak … again, and was slowly blowing down on the bike stand at the back). Pumping the pedals as if my very life depended on it, I huffed and I puffed and I ‘didn’t blow the house down’ but I did grunt and spit and even cry … a little. I gave it my all for about 5km, until the bakkie pulled in alongside me signalling a stop. Completely winded, I stood, hands on knees, beside the bike, gulping in the searing hot air. I was finished, done, klaar, kaput … and I just burst into tears, apologizing to Suzann for not being able to take us any further. I’d given my all on an already exhausted body, and I just couldn’t crank another pedal more. Emotionally done from the apprehension of a possible wildlife encounter and feeling an obligation to the team to keep going and do my part, I just didn’t know what else to do but have a good roadside cry. It helped. So did the cool interior of the air-conditioned vehicle, a Coke, and of course, the encouraging words of my sister. Suzann was still sprightly enough to take us another 10km or so before calling it a day. We never did quite make 130km, but around 100km is surely good enough?

We could’ve thought the day’s ride wouldn’t be easy, not with having only eaten a hamburger bun with jam and cheese the previous evening. Why such? Well, the steak braai had turned out a bit of a flop. Firstly, the solidly frozen rib-eye’s Suzann and mom had purchased at the local Spar in Kasane (battling the Saturday morning shopping rush … in the words of Suzann, “Kazungula border … just with a till”) had bled all over the vehicle’s tailgate. The blood had run in under the removable section for adjusting the locking mechanism. This necessitated Suzann take to the thing with a screwdriver. Being dark didn’t help much either, but with headlamps dropped into the hollow tailgate and Suzann’s rubber arms, we could managed to sop most of the stuff up, with mom’s dish cloth … no worries, it came off a disposable roll, so there was plenty more where that one came from. Screwing the plate back in place, Suzann sighed with relief, “crisis averted” … and it could’ve been a crisis, us driving along through a wildlife area with a tailgate full of blood …

All this trouble however, wasn’t even worth it as the steaks were as tough as old shoe leather and tasted like nothing short of cardboard. We tossed these next to the two tins of curried mixed vegetables that were supposed to have been our salad but when opened looked like a glue paste marbled with carrots, peas and potatoes.

With a lonely garlic bread left on the fire, we at least thought that would be OK. But when Suzann brought it to the table, the butter hadn’t even melted. The fire was so hot it was all Suzann could do to stop herself from going up in flames … forget lamb shanks, we could do Zan shanks … but the butter wouldn’t melt! Back on the fire, we were all distracted by trying to get hold of the hamburger buns and cheese (so we could at least eat something), and there the steak fat on the grid ignited under the bread. Looking round, we were horrified to see our garlic bread literally being engulfed in flames. Rushing to its rescue with tongs and braai gloves, Suzann wacked flames dead and brought a rather blackened foil package hanging limply from the front of the tongs. The bread was charcoal on the bottom but would you believe it … the butter still had not melted!

At that point it just became absolutely hilarious and we all stood around laughing our heads off at our ruined dinner. Folks must’ve thought we’d gone stark raving mad … mad with exhaustion, yes. So there it was just buns for supper.

After all that drama though, Botswana is done … just about. Hamilton the Hilux is at the doc for his service and we have to start prepping for the big border crossing into Zambia. We’re a few days ahead of schedule, but one never knows when those extra days might come in handy.

With all done and dusted, we can just sit and appreciate the beauty that is Botswana. More often than not, we’ve got lost in the business end of this thing. It becomes all about the bike, the next day’s distance, the road best taken, the rest day’s washing, packing, maintenance, diary, etc. etc … and then it all starts again. We have to learn to take some time and drink it all in.

Sitting on the banks of the Chobe river, it’s quiet … not dead still, but the kind of quiet filled with the sounds of nature … the birds chirping, the cry of the fish eagle echoing over the water every now and again, the soft lap-lap of the water along the muddy banks, the rustle of the breeze in the reeds … There’s a smell of nature around, of water, of dust, of red earth and growing things.

The boats cruise by filled to the gunwales with hordes of camera touting tourists eager to get their first sight of an elephant, while we cycled past about seven of these majestic mammals. With it being so dry right now, the animals congregate on the road side where there’s still some greenery left. We saw giraffe, kudu, impala, steenbokkies, ground hornbill, elephants, zebra, and even a few lilac breasted rollers on the main road … not even to mention the buffalo grazing just outside of town. Even the ‘tame’ warthogs are about again, raiding the camp dustbins and jogging all over town.

From where I’m sitting in the sunset bar I have an uninterrupted view of the river with its island in the centre. I can even see the Botswana flag flying on the island claiming it as theirs … one up on the neighbouring Namibia, whose thatched lodges I can also spy, way across the water.

I have the place to myself as its early morning and not near sunset. The water is almost under the stilted wooden deck and the yellow grass on the island contrasts perfectly with the dusty blue sky above. It’s early but the temperature is rising fast and with no wind it’s sure to be a scorcher … a haze is already set up on the horizon. There seems to be one lonely elephant out there on the island. Must be him the boat is stopped at out there.

Chobe Safari Lodge … a great place to use as base for all the activities up here in the north of Botswana. The sunset cruises are a bit commercialised, like most of the lodges around here, but so worth the spectacle of that orange-red globe dropping into the river along an almost luminous orange path, shimmering across the water, turning all the trees in the river and on the opposite bank, black. An amazing experience we enjoyed during our previous visit to Botswana. Wish we could do it again, but this time the budget is tight. That’s another reason why we’re in the cheap seats at the back of lodge (in the campsite) and not the main lodge with its double volume thatched roof, black table cloth restaurant with swinging wicker-type ‘chandeliers’, cool blue swimming pool surrounded by deck chairs filled with lounging guests waited on by khaki-clad waitrons carrying on gin-and-tonics to keep the African heat at bay. Sounds kinda colonial doesn’t it? It’s not though, just geared for the international tourist, and by international I mean Europe, mostly. But we can also enjoy the splendour of this place. How blessed we are!

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