Dated: Sat 03 Feb 18
I don’t understand how small businesses sustain themselves here, be it the campsites which outshine any French or Italian counterpart, or the beauty/bike shop I now find myself in. The campsites are barren. I’m often surprised if there is another guest, yet they are vast with pools, bars and often an array of exotic birds milling about the place. If this were summer in Europe they would be rammed and probably not quite so appealing. And the beautician is busily tapping away on her keyboard, not painting fingernails and gossiping with punters or whatever beauticians do.
Food is costly here. A tin of baked beans will set you back over a pound. A pound! So much for our sky rocketing food prices in the UK, I don’t think we realise how good we actually have it. They would describe the British as ‘complaining with a white loaf under the arm’, brown bread being much cheaper so we can obviously afford a little luxury.
I find myself in The Bike Zone, located in Gobabis, Namibia. A few spokes on my back wheel have snapped so I’m having Will, a man of significantly more bike knowledge than me, take a look at it. Best get the issue resolved before moving on. A former Saracens player, he was playing in the UK just as rugby became professional. He’s currently training for the Cape Epic, a multi day mountain bike marathon. He showed me a few videos; it looks savage and should be on every mountain bikers bucket list.
Will’s partner, Martha or Margot or something beginning with an ‘M’ (sorry), is saying in response to my comment about vacant campsites that ‘yeah food is expensive but we have a great lifestyle.’ They can get all the stuff we have but get to live in this amazing place. We have a cup of coffee and chat on about bikes and races et cetera et cetera. I won’t bore you with the details.
Wheel fixed and I get back on the road after losing just a morning. Thank God for The Bike Zone and thanks for the company for a few hours.
The previous afternoon I met my first fellow tourer, an Argentinian cycling on a battered mountain bike from Cairo to the Cape. Within the next 24 hrs I cross paths with two others. A Japanese student who bought a second hand bike for under one hundred euros in in Spain before crossing the Gibraltar gap to make his way south to Cape town; he has gone in at the deep end. With barely any English or local lingo he has cycled through the likes of the Senegal, Sierra Leone and the Congo. And then Thomas, the Belgian cyclist who, from his sandals to his khaki hat looked like Steve Irwin, cycling the Cairo to Cape route raising money for elephant conservation.
It’s great to chat with a passing cyclist. If anything, the assurance that I won’t get eaten by savage wildlife in Botswana is a relief. What I do realise is that I’m cycling with a white loaf under one arm. You can literally cycle using a fifth-hand bike or an expensive tourer and still get the job done. I’m some where in the middle but looking at my competition’s kit, I’ve got it good. Though Thomas hasn’t had a single puncture in his 7000km and I’ve had three punctures and three snapped spokes to boot.
It’s amazing that when you cross an, often imaginary, boundary from one country to the next there is a difference. In a car you might not notice the change as your zoom past at break neck speed to your next gated campsite, but slow it down and remove the windows and there is a subtle change. I’m now in Botswana, camping at the back of a service station just near the border with Namibia (I don’t want to know what the larvae are in the stagnant water in the men’s room). Goats and cattle graze along the road side and it seems a tad less organised with more people milling around; a touch rougher around the edges. Signs line the roadside stating that these new roads are government funded, something of which the government is particularly proud, apparently.
Yesterday evening as I made my way east, deeper into Botswana, I could see cells brewing on the horizon, clouds towering skywards only to be trapped by the tropopause, spreading their tops out into an anvil. In the early hours I’m then woken by a heavenly roar, which culminates in a crescendo of thunder and lightening. The resultant sunrise was quite something. The tail end of last nights summer rains veil the sun, only to be drawn back like a stage shows curtains revealing the sun’s ‘Earlybirds Performance’!
I hope that the clouds hold back the heat for just a few short hours. It’s my favourite time of day: sunrise is for the lucky few where as sunset is for the masses.
The last few nights have seen me camping on the outer edge of the Kalahari and I’m confined to quarters at sundown owing to the lack of fences and abundance of creatures, regardless of the sauna-like temperatures in my green bivouac. Spontaneous perspiration occurs. Although I’ve finished pedalling I feel like I’m in the throws of a spinning class, as puddles begin to form undulations in ground sheet, which has now turned into a quagmire. Unfortunately, as a result, my tent has a permanent fug to it as my thermorest has acted like a sponge sucking up that ripe sweat. Note to self – clean tent at the earliest opportunity and burn the thermorest.
As always, my time revolves around water and cycling to the next “trough.” Water and kilometres are alike, I want to consume as many as possible each day. What I have discovered are various water saving routines: re-use pasta water to wash up, drink one’s urine, and wash using wet wipes with minimal water. But the best water saver of all is the torrential down pours in the early evening. As it rains elephants and hippos, I can literally shower under the heavens rather than using my collapsible sink. It will be an embarrassing day when an unsuspecting local stumbles across me lathered up and stood there in my birthday suit, though I suppose that would be better than finding me squatting like Gollum over my bird bath.
Tonight, however, I’m staying at a veterinary control point and have access to their ablutions which consist of a long drop and a tap…oh, what luxury! The north of the country, above a town called Kuke, is in the grips of a BSE outbreak. The station is the line of defence against foot and mouth, trying to prevent it spreading South and devastating the bovine population of the cattle country through which I have just passed. The three guards are soundly asleep when I depart in the morning and very little in the way of vehicle control actually seems to occur.