Africa Cycle Tour – Botswana Part 2

Day 19 – Meeting Roma and sleeping at the police station

I had heard last night from a guy name Roma, a member of the Cairo to Cape Town cycle WhatsApp group, that he was in Maun and leaving in the morning to head towards Nata. Unfortunately, I woke up a bit late and he was already on his way but told me to try to meet up with him in a small village called Motopi.

I did a final bit of work and after breakfast said goodbye to my cousins whom I’d been staying with in Maun for a week. It was 100km to Motopi and it was already 10am when I got going so I knew I would have to cycle pretty fast to make it before evening. The first 50kms were fairly uneventful, I just cycled at a steady 20km/h along the long, flat road out of Maun. There was a bit of a headwind but nothing I couldn’t handle.

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At about 50km I reached a Veterinary checkpoint where they control the spread of foot and mouth disease. Any vehicle with tyres needs to drive through a small puddle of disinfectant chemicals, including bicycles. Everybody also has to wipe their shoes on a square of carpet that is also soaked in the disinfectant. I went through the process and then stopped by the nearby stall and had something to eat and drink. These little roadside stalls are very expensive and I spent $5 on some biscuits, chips, a can of beans and a cool drink. The stall owner told me had seen another cyclist who had told him to tell me to meet him in Motopi, so that must have been Romain.

At around 1pm I headed off and again had nothing but a straight flat road for the next few hours. I stopped at one point to test out the tripod invention I had made in Maun. Using the phone clip from a selfie-stick and an old traditional camera tripod that my cousin-in-law had kindly given me, I created a small phone tripod. I balanced it precariously on a road meter marker and then started filming and did two cycles by. The footage came out okay but I need to find more interesting backdrops to film on.

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Eventually, just before 4pm I arrived at the turnoff to Motopi and after a few kilometers down a nice side road towards Orapa I arrived in the tiny village. Romain hadn’t replied to the WhatsApp message I sent him (turns out he didn’t have a simcard) so I just headed towards the Kgotla, which is like the town hall of any small village which also acts as a police station and sometimes the chiefs home. Fortunately, Romain was there waiting for me. We made our introductions and I met with the police who man the station and explained I would also be camping there with Romain. As usual, they were very welcoming and told me where I can get water.

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Romain and I went to buy a coke and chatted for a bit about our trips so far. I decided we needed a beer so after setting up my tent I went and sourced us two. There wasn’t much else to do in town so made dinner quite early and then after getting constantly harassed by kids asking for sweets, we headed to bed.

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Day 20 – Elephants and Baobabs

I awoke around 6am having not slept too well. It had rained a bit in the night so Romain and I hung up our tent covers and then I made some coffee for us. For breakfast, we shared some bread and boiled eggs Raomin had left over. We faffed around a bit getting packed up and only got on the road by 8am which usually wouldn’t be a problem but we had 138kms to cover if we wanted to make it to my proposed destination that night – Planet Baobab. It’s quite a famous stopping point for overlander trucks and other travellers and had been recommended to me by a few people.

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We started off quite well, maintaining a solid 20km/h pace before the heat started setting in. By 11am we reached a small village and pulled off to go look for cold drinks. We found a small shop and had two ice cold cokes each – a life saver in this heat. We also decided we better eat some beans since we hadn’t had much breakfast. Food is really hard to come by in Botswana outside of the large cities and often small shops only have huge bags of corn meal, rice, beans, macaroni, tinned fish and if you’re really lucky, tomatoes and onions. Even bread is very rare and fresh fruit is non-existent. Local villagers seem to survive on mielie meal, beans and presumably the occasional unlucky goat. Romain, being a chef, was quite well prepared though with herbs and spices and managed to make some pretty decent meals out of the limited supplies. I, on the other hand, had been eating a lot of plain pasta and tomato sauce.

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Back on the road, we bumped into some elephants at around 2pm. They were just crossing the road so we waited but one big one spotted us as we started cycling past and starting flapping its ears at us. As a precaution, we started cycling back the other way and eventually it moved on. The rest of the trip was uneventful but very hot so we couldn’t move to fast. We stopped again briefly for some juice and biscuits under the shade a tree and then eventually by around 6pm we made it to Gweta where Planet Baobab is. We had a much-deserved cold beer outside a small petrol station and then finished the final 3km to Planet Baobab. Tragically their wifi wasn’t working but I was too tired and bothered to try to find somewhere else in Gweta so I accepted I’ll have to miss a day of work and make up for it tomorrow.

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They kindly phoned another lodge in town, Gweta Lodge, to check if their wifi was working and it was so we decided we would take a chill day there tomorrow and I’d catch up on work. We set up camp and then jumped in their awesome swimming pool. An overlander truck had stopped the night so there were a few other young British people swimming too but they went off for dinner soon after we arrived. Although it was a bit expenisve we decided to have a proper meal for one night at their restaurant. Before turning in we had a couple of beers at the bar and spoke to some of the overlander people about our trip.

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Day 21 – The awesome Gweta Lodge

In the morning we grabbed some of the over-priced restaurant coffee which was admittedly very good and then packed up and cycled the few kilometres into town to find Gweta Lodge. On arrival, the receptionist offered to give us a room at discount ($25 for the room) so we decided to take it as Romain hadn’t slept in a real bed for a while. Then we chilled by the pool while I worked. Romain went and bought some food from the small shop nearby and made us an awesome pasta for a kind of late breakfast. I finished up work and we had a few beers and swam and had some late lunch.

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Around about 5pm the owner came by the bar and offered us each a beer which we gladly accepted. We got chatting and had a few more beers and then he whipped out a bottle of brandy and coke and we got stuck in on that. After a few drinks, he offered to let us join the meerkat safari in the morning at a huge discount. Although the original plan was to leave early for Nata, we couldn’t say no. He said it would be back by 11am so possibly we could still make it to Nata if we wanted. After a few more brandy’s he took us to see all his 4×4 vehicles in his workshop and we chatted about the lodge and the tours he does. Eventually, by 11pm we stumbled drunkenly into bed and spent the night trying to ward off mosquitos.

Day 22 – Meerkat safari and sundowners

We groggily awoke at 6am and had a few cups of free coffee before crawling onto the safari vehicle and heading out into the Makgadikgadi salt pans to find some meerkats. The drive took an hour during which time we stopped to admire a huge baobab tree and I tried not to fall asleep. We picked up a local villager who was the guide said would help us find the meerkats. He came through and a few minutes later we stopped in the open plains and spent an hour or so watching a small family of meerkats popping in and out of their burrows.

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We continued on to see the salt pans and the other guests attempted to do those forced perspective photos that everybody loves doing on saltpans. Romain and I were maybe a bit too hungover to join in. Although we got back to the lodge even earlier than 11am we decided to chill another night, much to James the owners delight. He told us he would take us out to the pans later for some beers because he needs to find a camping spot for an upcoming safari.

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I spent the rest of the day getting work done, making lunch and swimming until around 3pm James came round and gave me a gin and tonic but said he was a bit busy to make it out to the salt pans today. Instead, he decided we would go to a nearby watering hole and watch the sunset with another bottle of brandy and coke, obviously. We chilled a bit longer, had a few more drinks and then headed off.

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The sunset was amazing over the watering hole and although no elephants came there were a lot of cows and donkeys. James also introduced us to his favorite snack – corned beef on salty cracks with onion, tomato, Aromat and sweet chili sauce. Considering the limited supplies you get out here it was quite an inventive snack.

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We finished off the evening with a few more drinks until it was dark and then headed back to the lodge and checked out an old 1918 Dodge that belonged to James’ grandfather. In my drunken state, I promised him I would return so we could work on rebuilding it and getting it running – a promise I hope to live up to, despite knowing nothing about car mechanics!

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Day 23 – Sketchy elephants and Ruperts campsite

Up at 6am, Romain and I packed and had some coffee and breakfast before settling our bill and hitting the road by 7:30. We didn’t have a big day ahead of us but it was still 100kms and the heat would start setting in soon. The usual headwind that we had become accustomed to set in fairly early but we did a good job of fighting against it. We stopped in a small village for some lunch and spent a while relaxing and avoiding the heat before realising we would need to get moving if we wanted to make it to Nata before dark.

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Since we were past the main part of the Mkagikagi game reserve I wasn’t expecting any elephants on the road but around 4pm we noticed three elephants hanging around on the right side. We stopped and waited for them to move but they didn’t look like they were going anywhere and after about 20 minutes I started to stress about the time. It was only about 20kms to Nata by now but the sun would be setting soon. Eventually, a truck passed going in the other direction and stopped to ask if we okay. We explained we were afraid of the elephants so they kindly offered to drive back with us in that direction and create a barrier to protect us. Fortunately, we got past safely and waved goodbye to our helpers as they turned to go back in their original direction.

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We arrived in Nata just after 5pm and quickly grabbed some food from the Choppies supermarket before heading to Eselbe camp where we spend the night. The camp was deserted when we arrived but eventually, the owner, Rupert, showed up and welcomed us. He didn’t have a bar but kindly drove me back to the bottle store so we could grab a few beers and then we all had dinner together. The camp was fairly basic and we were the only guests, but it was nice and quiet and I slept well. At 100 pula a night though, its a bit overpriced and I was surprised when he asked us to pay for the wine too but I happily obliged as he clearly needed the business.

Day 24 – Sleeping in a cell phone tower

We had an early breakfast of coffee and biscuits, thanked Rupert for his hospitality and headed off north onto the Elephant Highway – a 300km route through Chobe National Park that’s famous for its many elephants.

Other than two giraffes we didn’t encounter anything dangerous the initial part of the route. By lunchtime, we reached the veterinary checkpoint that controls the spread of disease into Chobe park and marks the entrance to the more densely populated part of it. We had planned to camp at some secure cell phone towers we had read about on various blogs that offered cyclists on the road protection from animals at night. Since parks in Botswana are entirely unfenced, it’s too dangerous to wild camp just anywhere but these cell phone towers are famous for offering protection to cyclists on the route.

However, when asking the police about the existence of the towers, they pretended to not know anything about them. We were a bit confused and wondering what to do when a group of three cyclists came towards us from the other direction. It was great to see some other cyclists and we all took some time to chat about our respective journeys so far. They confirmed the existence of the cell phone towers and assured us we would be able to camp there safely so after having some lunch we set off more confidently.

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After only about 20kms we reached the first tower and decided to see what the situation was. We found some workers there who were busy fixing an issue with one of the solar panels that had been damaged by an elephant which had breached the enclosure. They seemed happy to let us camp there the night but suggested we camp up on the roof of a building in case an elephant breaks in again. It seemed like a logical and safe plan, although a bit scary, so we decided to stay the night. Before heading off around 4pm, they kindly gave us some cold cokes and a few bottles of water which was a lifesaver since we were seriously running low.

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We chilled the rest of the afternoon, climbed the cell phone tower to take photos and then around 6pm made a fire to cook some dinner. We had our usual tomato, onion and tuna pasta with a slightly unique twist being cooked on an open fire rather than the gas stove. After eating and watching a beautiful sunset we had a coffee and lay on the roof staring at the incredible star-filled sky and listening to the distant crack of elephants walking around. After heading to bed I heard an elephant walk very close to the compound but it moved on fairly quickly.

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Day 25 – Long stretch to Pandamatenga

We awoke just as the sun was rising and I made some coffee and then we made instant noodles for breakfast. Just as we finished we heard loud cracking behind and turned to find an elephant right up against the gate surrounding the compound. The large, steel gate suddenly didn’t look very big or strong anymore. The elephant flapped its ears, trumpeted quite loudly and for a tense moment, I thought it might try break into the compound but eventually, it calmed down and moved off.

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We packed up soon afterward, cleaned up the areas of the compound we had used and then head off to complete the rather long 112km cycle to Pandamatenga. After 40kms we stopped at the next cell phone tower where the occupants kindly gave us some water and let us relax in the shade for a while. After that cell tower, we had been told there would be nothing for the next 70kms to Pandamatenga and it was true. We cycled through fairly brutal heat, saw a few cars and stopped once for a quick and rather scary snack on the roadside but saw little else.

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A short while after our break I noticed an elephant hidden in the shadows right by the roadside. Roma was ahead of me but hadn’t noticed the elephant and had headphones in so didn’t hear me when I called to warn him. The elephant seemed to head towards him but after I shouted it turned its attention on me. I quickly turned around and started cycling the other way, which was when Roma looked and got the fright of his life when he saw a huge elephant charging into the road. Luckily it was just a mock charge and after a few steps the elephant turned back and headed into the bushes but we both left a little shaken. Roma decided headphones in the Chobe park weren’t the best plan after all.

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Eventually by around 5pm, after a long and hard final push, we reached an army base just before Pandamatenga and stopped for a beer with some of the local soldiers. After a brief chat, we completed the last few kilometers, stopped to pick up some supplied and then arrived at our campsite for the night – Touch of Africa.

It’s a fairly nice lodge and campsite run by an Austrian guy who had lived in the area for decades. He informed us there had been lions in the camp the night before and then showed us where we can camp, telling us to use a torch and be careful of the lions. Seems safe.

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We met another cyclist who was also heading north and had come all the way from Cairo over the past year or so. I got some work done while he and Romain cooked boerewors spaghetti for dinner and then we had a few beers and headed to bed. During the night we could hear the lions roaring not too far off in the bush.

Day 26 – Last stretch to the border

After coffee and some farewells to our new friend, we headed off for the final stretch towards the Zambia border. We were hoping to get there early enough to cross into Zambia, clear immigration and still find somewhere to camp so I cycled pretty hard. Luckily it was flat and lacking the usual headwind so we managed to get into a good pace maintaining around 30km an hour for the most part. Other than a brief break around midday we pretty much cycled straight through and made it Kazangula by about 3pm. We grabbed some fried chicken and Pepsi for lunch from Choppies and then headed to the border. After checking out of Botswana quickly and easily we bordered the small ferry that crosses into Zambia. The crossing is at the only point in the world where four countries meet at one point and as such is the only place in the world where you can be on a ferry in four countries at once.

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On the other side, we disembarked and had the usual guys trying to help us organize everything in the hope for a tip. They did promise some very cheap accommodation so I agreed and went along with it. Immigration for me was fairly quick although Romain had to draw money to pay for his visa. Then we stopped on the way to get sim cards and arrived a really rundown looking motel which was pretty crappy but they gave us a room for $10 so we took it.

We grabbed a few beers from the nearby bar, cheers our achievements so far and got ready for new adventures in Zambia.

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