Giddy Up! Since entering Botswana we have had 9 cycling days sandwiched around a single off day in Maun. The average day’s assignment has been 162 km for a total of 1463. It hasn’t all been fun. We are tired in general, our rear ends are sore, and the only chocolate to be had at Easter was a smear of Nutella on a slice of white.
3 days ago the number was 208 km, the biggest of the trip and our lives, falling on a day with the added inconvenience of yet another border crossing. The morning had us packing up wet gear after violent thunderstorms through the night. Camp was set 3 km back from the tarmac on a sandy road forcing us to walk most of it’s length as the sun came up. We cleared customs at the Namibian border (country #9) at the 207 km mark and rolled into camp at Buitenpos with just enough time to set up the soggy tent before the skies opened up once again. Dinner, showers, SIM card navigation and $ exchange left little time for recovery.
The following 2 day’s rides were arguably more challenging. A welcome brisk and foggy morning ride and lunch proceeded a refueling stop in Gobabis, where we were so happy to see civilization that we gorged on cokes, milkshakes, capuccino (2 sugars) and a fist full of biltong before making a right turn which steered us directly into the teeth of a stiff afternoon wind for the last 50 km. The same weather pattern held for riders on the way into Windhoek, our home for a 2 day break.
Of course we knew about all these statistics going in. On some level the absolutes did not sink in. It was a kind of denial, a theory that we would work up to it, a blind faith that the wind would carry us as it had our predecessors from other years. Now that all has been revealed, we are frankly amazed what we, along with our fellow riders, all soldiers in a common battle, are capable of.
What we are less than enthusiastic about is the underwhelming scenery of the Elephant Highway section of the tour which has ended here in the capital city of Namibia. As reported earlier, elephant encounters on our bikes and in camp were the stuff of dreams. After the anticipation and excitement of the likeliest spotting opportunities (the 1st 2 days), however, we were left with the contourless scrub of the Kalahari, few towns, people or civilization of any sort.
So, after 3 months of escalating superlatives in this space, we admit to a brief lag in the story. It seems that we are at a juncture in the plot where the object is to lay down the miles in a hurry – while the scenery is wanting. No matter, we’ve got our eyes on the big picture, and there is much to come.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango, one of the world’s largest inland deltas, served as a bright spot in contrast to the long days spent cycling in the Kalahari. Vast quantities of wildlife shift with the seasons here in waters originating from the northwest in Angola that expand and contract with the season. It is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site..
We hope to return in the future for a multiday trip involving a mokoro (a dugout canoe complete with a poler), camping and hiking. This time around, we opted for a stunning overview of the verdant delta out of Maun from the window of a Cessna Caravan EX flying low enough to make out the animals among the shallow pools and twisting arteries of water. We saw elephants walking in processions and basking solo in streams, hippos by the dozen, giraffes, assorted antelopes grazing over large areas, water buffalo, wildebeest and a single large big cat that was identifiable by its slow and ominous progress across the endless green. The perspective from above provides an unforgettable sense of the beauty, bounty and transience of not just the Okavango, but of the continent’s fragile ecosystem in its entirety. This was certainly one of the most treasured gifts of our time here in Africa.
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Thanks for reading.