Friday, 29 September 2017

The Ups and Downs of the Open Road!

I finally left the comfort of Nundu Lodge on the Okavango River. The place that had been my sick bed for a few days, and a place that had been very kind to me as I recovered from my tummy bug.  A cool fan and mosquito net made all the difference, and waking up to the sound of grunting hippos in the morning is enough to distract anyone from their ailments.

Fully recovered, I said my goodbyes to Namibia and headed for the Mohembo border crossing into Botswana. It was a lovely dirt road ride in through a game reserve, with signs warning of lions and elephants in our presence and an extra big sign saying, ‘Disclaimer – Enter at own risk’. It reminded me of a sign I had on my bedroom door as a kid and I smiled as I imagined lots of teenage wildlife leaving clothes all over the floor and mouldy cups under their beds.  I saw neither elephant nor lion. I did however, see lots of antelope type things and made a mental note-to-self as I rode, ‘Brush up on antelopes’.

The border was the easiest yet (although she stamped my carnet in the wrong place. Hope that isn’t an issue later on). Nobody there but me, so no long queues or hanging around in the heat. It was cool and quiet. Just the way I like my borders, and some might say, my men!

After the border came the aggressive foot-deep pot-holes that anxiously waited with open mouths for me to go wrong. They threatened to eat me whole with one momentary loss of concentration. The sun was slowly cooking me alive in my riding gear like a boil-in-the-bag meal. In alliance with the pot-holes, it promised to make me easier to swallow and more digestible.

I stopped at the first petrol station in Shakawe to refuel and see if I could get a sim card. I ended up
changing $100 here at an OK rate and got a sim from the shop next door. While I sat there a man came over and sat next to me, so close our arms pressed against each other’s. He introduced himself and I said, ‘Pleased to meet you’, as I made a point of moving away slightly. As I did he reached over and brushed the hair out of my face. I stood up cooly, but said in no uncertain terms that touch was NOT cool. The conversation went on like this..

‘It’s ok because I like you’
‘It is not ok because I don’t want you to’
‘I like white women’
‘Good for you’
‘I love you’
‘You’re crazy’
‘Yes I AM crazy!’

I proceeded to leave and put my jacket and helmet on. As I did so he came over and said I must stay with him and grabbed my arm roughly. His smile had gone and his eyes looked desperate. I pushed him so hard that he stumbled backwards and fell over. As he was getting up I got on my bike to leave and said, ‘Good luck with those white women’. He ran at me and tried to drag me off the bike. Rhonda was already off the stand so I was trying to keep her upright whilst trying to get him off me. I was thinking, ‘If this guy makes me drop my bike I’m going to punch him in the face. It’s too hot for this shit’.

Just then a group of four guys came running over. I wasn’t sure for a second which side they were on and my stomach lurched until they started dragging him off me. I thanked them and rode off. They let him go and he came running after me, but I got away and watched as he grew smaller in my rear-view mirror.

Funny thing was I didn’t really feel that threatened. Just like when that taxi driver tried to drive me out of the city in Iran. I never felt the situation was a drastic one or that I had completely lost control. I guess it hadn’t got to that stage. I still had some fight in me and hadn’t used all my cards before it was over, so there was no need to start panicking. I had already sussed that the guy was not trying to rob me and was probably just a little crazy. I have dealt with far worse in the UK over the years.

Further down the road a policeman jumped out from under a tree and did me for speeding. He showed me the recording so I couldn’t argue. I was doing 98 in a 60 zone. I hadn’t seen the signs. I did however argue the fine. It started at 800 Pula. The negotiation began and went something like this…

‘800 fine!’
‘I don’t have that much and wouldn’t pay it even if I did. That’s ridiculous’.
The policeman repeated in a jovial mimic,
‘That’s ridiculous’, emphasising my scandalised high pitch.
We both laughed, and the ice was broken.

We eventually agreed on 200 and I left saying I had learnt my lesson and would pay more attention going forward! Within 5 mins I was already over the speed limit again but paying more attention to the shady spots under the trees where police might be lurking. It was too hot to hang around!

The campsite I had originally planned to stop at (the swamp stop) had been closed, so after a few kilometres of soft sand I found I had to turn back and head for Maun instead, facing hours more heat and some of the biggest dust devils I have seen to date. One whipped my head back with such force I was amazed I didn’t get whiplash. It kept me pinned there for probably just a second, then threw me forward again.

My plan of a short day of 100km and an easy day turned into 500kms and a fairly eventful one!

Arriving on the Okovango river was like an oasis after six thousand kilometres of desert and
generally arid conditions. The Old Bridge campsite just outside Maun offered shade and cold beer. I set up my tent in the shade, had a cold shower, and quickly followed it with the beer. A ritual I have repeated too many times to remember. Taking sweaty riding gear off and holding your first beer after a ride and a camp set up has to be one of the best feelings in the world!

The Old Bridge is not a bad place. Everywhere in Botswana is overpriced (higher that British prices for example), and here is no different. It is a back-packers, mostly full of the hired 4x4 brigade and twenty-somethings who often believe that they invented travel and say things like, ‘Oh I don’t do the tourist thing’, as they sit in a tourist spot and book onto their next guided tour. Don’t get me wrong - they are a great bunch generally, and we all want to feel different, right? But I’m pretty sure the locals would call you a tourist! Ouch! There’s that word again!  

It is the kind of place I can enjoy for a short time only, but enjoy it I did. I drank beer in the shade by the river, took a sunset boat ride amongst the abundant birdlife and elephants, and later played the card game ‘Shit head’, before retiring to my tent and sleeping an easy sleep. It was a great place to chill for a while and also to meet up with fellow travellers, some of whom I had already met through South Africa and Namibia.

Played Shit Head with these guys. Great bunch. 
Annoyingly, before leaving, I took a horse ride and as I jumped off the horse at the end, my shoulder screamed out in searing pain. I fell to my knees and stifled the urge to scream while Cash, the horse I had just been riding, nestled my hair and offered a comforting touch as I crouched next to his enormous hooves and waited for the worst to pass. It was touching to see that he clearly felt my pain and I was glad we had bonded during the ride. 

My left shoulder had frozen in the Americas and had caused me months of pain. For weeks the right shoulder, and throttle arm, had been showing signs of going the same way, with a condition often associated with baseball players. A form of RSI I guess that often starts with a torn rotator cuff or similar and ends with a shoulder that locks for several months, causing chronic pain. It is a three-stage process to recovery that can take anything up to 3 years. My arm is now weak and painful but not fully locked yet and not at its most severe. This will come, but I can only hope it takes its time and it just doesn’t get as bad as the last one, which was diagnosed as, ‘The worst case I have ever seen’ by a shoulder specialist. I am still hopeful I can make it home, but I will adjust my route to allow for easier options where possible, and enjoy every bit of the road until I can no longer ride. If and when that happens, I will ship home – happy that I made it to Africa and counting my blessings for getting to the seventh continent in one piece. I refuse to dwell or beat myself up this time around. If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that life is too short for self-deprecation or regret - especially when things are out of your control.

The following day, I rode to Nata. A 300km straight road through the bush with the odd giraffe, wort hog and zebra as company. I found a little shade at a lodge here and did my best to stay cool, before pushing on to Elephant Sands today, where now I sit in the shade and await the arrival of the elephants at their evening watering hole. This place will require its own blog post!


3 comments:

  1. Great post and I agree with you, a cold beer at the end of riding is the best. I can go hungry, but that cold beer is a must. I learned my lesson though, while riding the Yukon Valley in Canada, never bring the beer into the tent as a bear almost got me while inside the stupid thing. The beer scent must have been incredible for the poor hungry bear 🐾🐾

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Taking sweaty riding gear off and holding your first beer after a ride and a camp set up has to be one of the best feelings in the world!' YUP!

    Take care of the shoulder, Steph. Am heading back to the 'States in Nov for a rotator cuff surgery, so I'm very sympathetic. Thanks for the smiles and the vicarious thrills!

    ReplyDelete
  3. hi steph! aint africa great! a place unlike any other. Btw, you`re not drinking warm beer are you?... :) ... sounds like you`ve had quite a few adventures! some better than others... life on the road....take care of your health. Priority one!.... thanks for the great posts!

    ReplyDelete