In Tandem with Africa and Asia

A teacher's journey over three continents on a tandem bicycle
9 minutes reading time (1747 words)

Safari a Velo in Botswana



Botswana is one of the few countries whose per capita GDP growth has kept up with China's over the last 15 years. Perhaps easier to do in a country with a  population of only 1.5 million (compared to some 150k elephants!). Nonetheless, we enjoyed superb hospitalilty in what turned out to be a very chilled, albeit tiring, ten days in this former British protectorate (formerly known as Bechuanaland).

Stage 2: Botswana: "Elephants, Sand and Straight Roads"                                                                        
Tuli to Livingstone, July 24th - 6th August

950km
O punctures(at least not on Thandie)
Lots of elephants & giraffes


Botswana is one of the few countries whose per capita GDP growth has kept up with China's over the last 15 years. Perhaps easier to do in a country witha  population of only 1.5 million (compared to some 150k elephants!). Nonetheless, we enjoyed superb hospitalilty in what turned out to be a very chilled, albeit tiring, ten days in this former British protectorate (formerly known as Bechuanaland).

Our first full day in Botswana proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous six days of continuous cycling. Ant Haggie kindly hosted us in his game farm in the Tuli Block, stunningly perched on the banks of the Limpopo, 40km upstream from Pontdrift and close to its confluence with the Shasa river. Jo, his game ranger, shared some of his vast knowledge of this region and its wildlife and we enjoyed some spectacular walks in this jewel of Botswana, which borders both South Africa and Zimbabwe. During the day, we were joined at the river by a herd of elephants and in the evening by some Zimbabweans trying to get into South Africa. As well as pointing out elephant, lion and hyena tracks, Jo identified various sizes Reebok & Nike trainers, informing us that the game reserve also served as regular path for those seeking a better life away from Mugabe's troubled country. We felt lucky to be walking on the same river bed just for fun, and it helped put the previous week and the forthcoming journey into perspective.

Deciding that cycling through the game park wasn't the best idea, although we noticed that the Tour de Tuli was getting underway the following week, Jo dropped us at the edge of the park so that we could continue the 150km to Selebe-Phikwe on the Saturday morning. With the tandem powered by an increasingly strong Humsey and Ant himself, we made good progress. Ant is a a veteran of the famous Argus Cycle Tour in Cape Town; he set the bar for the older generation (Mum and Dad, please take note!), cycling over 150km over the next two days with steely determination.

We were hosted by Mike and Mary Hehir in S-P, whose son-in-law I knew from my gap year in Cape Town. Mike, in the construction trade, had arrived in Bots from west Ireland via the UK in the 1960's and had helped build a lot of schools in Botswana. Along with his son Mikey (and grandson Mike), they looked after us superbly and, well-fed, we managed the 160kms to Francistown, Botswana's second city, without any dramas. Humsey again started out, but was suffering. 'The reason I was a little quiet,' he informed me, 'was that I spent the first 50kms trying not to sh*t myself' and thus Ant took over for the last 100kms or so.

Andrew Seale, a school friend of Jono Arscott (the latter has subsequently joined the group ride in Zambia) had seen the ride advertised on Facebook and had become our point of contact in Botswana. Not only did he kindly put us up in his Riverglen cottage, he also contacted many of the lodges on our route north who as a result let us camp free of charge in support of the project. (See Sponsors Tab)

After a useful day of admin in Francistown, we set off early on the morning of 2nd August, heading NE for the 190km push to Nata Lodge. Humsey was feeling better and we managed to push out more than 80km before 10am, allowing us to break the back of the ride by lunchtime. As with much of Africa, there was plenty of evidence of Chinese investment and activity on the way out of Francistown, with a new football stadium and a big shopping mall being built. It wasn't clear whether 50,000 fans would ever watch a game in the stadium (it was due to have been finished before the SA Football World Cup). Interestingly, the new president Ian Khama was taking a more cycnical view than some of his equivalents in other African states and discouraging Chinese workers in Botswana.

With Fi joining for the final 120km, we made good progress to our campsite at the stunning Nata Lodge (link), greeted by the manager James and four cold beers. The lodge had burnt to the ground in a freak bush fire two years ago but had been rebuilt and was full of tourists. We drove out to the saltpans and enjoyed a perfect sundowners with some obliging flamingoes making it the picture postcard setting. On returning to the camp, we noticed some British accents in the site next to us. Five retired gentlemen were driving a German fire engine back from Cape Town to Hamburg, after it had been dumped by some German fans who had used it to get to the World Cup in 2010. The same five had overlanded from London to CT in 1966 and had got back in touch after more than 30 years of doing their own thing - what a great adventure to undertake again!

We remained on the same road for the next three days covering just over 300kms; all good tar other than 135kms of roadworks where a new road was being built. This meant we missed the turning for Elephant Sands, and, due to the poor road surface, I decided to do the loop back solo - my first time on the tandem without anyone else. With the others driving ahead, I suddenly felt very aware that elephants could be nearby and startling a couple of giraffes didn't help my nerves. I was taken aback by a passing 4x4 who slowed to take a photo of me on the bike - it turned out to be Virgil and Collete who were also going to Elephant Sands. They offered a lift but I decided to crack on but regretted not taking them up on their offer as the last 2kms to the camp turned out to be a punishing push through the sand. Virgil and Collete live in Jo'burg, where they run an engineering firm cutting gears and were on their way back from Lvingstone so we were able to get some good advice on the road to Zambia. Our hearts sank when they said the road was going to be poor for at least the next 100kms, making the push to Pandamentenga the next day harder. After changing Fi's tyres to her off-road variety and stuffing down as much pasta we we could, we got an early night knowing that the cold would wake us up early.

The scenery over the next two days combined some commercial agriculture, bushveld and forest as we approached Kasane. We overnighted in Panda Lodge, just outside Pandamentenga; a small village with the only noticeable feature being a huge grain silo. We were welcomed by Angela and Chris, who were running the campsite and enjoyed a meal in their bar, catching up with some of the locals and other guests - several of whom were staying there whilst working on the new road. Again we sought further advice on what to do if we were confronted by elephant.'Don't hang around to see whether it is a mock charge' was the answer. We calculated that if a elephant can do 40kms an hour,  the tandem would be safe. As for Fi...

We did see a couple of elephants over the next few days but we passed them by without any dramas and enjoyed a speedy day to Kasane, where we camped on the banks of the Chobe at Thembe Lodge. Mark and Humsey headed off the get fuel, returning successfully but after a two hour wait (there was a diesel shortage!), whlist Fi patiently took me through all the drugs and other goodies she was going to leave me in the first aid kit. We retired to the bar after our second meal that day of pasta, tuna and sweet chilli where Jannie, who is the owner, agreed to cycle the tandem to the ferry, 10km down the road at Kasungula. I cycled past his office at 7.30am the next morning as agreed. He looked at me blankly, explained that it must have been the cane and coke doing the talking and so I cycled to the ferry with Fi, while Humsey kindly helped Mark pack up the kit in a lodge truck to meet us there.

We sailed through the Botswanan side of border, past around 40 trucks patiently waiting for the ferry (that could only take one at at time) and busily loading our gear onto the 'Chobe Drifter' for the 100m crossing, taking care to ensure none of it took a walk. Several unofficial FX traders, operating from Mokoras (the Botswana equivalent of Cambridge punts), 'attacked' the ferry. We hurriedly unloaded, jumping off with our last bits of gear just as the Ferry impatiently returned to Botswana.

We located Ken, who had agreed to meet us on the other side, cajoled one of the border police to pose on the back on the bike wielding his automatic weapon, departed with $50 for the Zambian visa and set out for the final 60kms to Livingstone. We reckoned that we probably did more hills in that brief strech than in the whole of Botswana, but the view of the Zambezi stretching out before our eyes after the final ascent was worth the pedal. Little did we know that we would be paddling in a rockpool within metres of edge of the legendary Victoria Falls the following morning. With more than a dozen cyclists joining over the next two weeks, Botswana has been the ideal break before what was going to be a busy push up to Kawama School and the other 'Beyond Ourselves' projects in the Copperbelt.

Stage 3, part I: Zambia "Supporting The Cyclists: ...
A one way ticket to the Rainbow Nation

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