Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Southern Africa
The next morning feels surprisingly fresh and the water in our bowl is frozen. A quick look at the thermometer explains why: it’s 0°C and the night’s minimum hit below zero! We quickly resurrect the fire and thaw our fingers with hot mugs of coffee.
I hate maintenance on a trip, preferring to do that beforehand. But I also hate riding with a fault that could cause a preventable accident. My brakes were dragging before we left and despite replacing the seals and brake fluid the night before our departure, they still feel spongy. Errol reckons they were bled incorrectly and the easiest way to fix it is by pumping fluid in from the bottom instead the top. He backs up his technique by scratching in his bags and coming up with a large syringe which he proceeds to fill from the master cylinder.
He empties the contents into the bleed nipples on the calipers. Repeat step 1 & 2 a few times…but the result is not what I had hoped for. After a few attempts we pack it in and return to the Selebi Phikwe road. I’m not a happy chappy.
A brief excursion alongside the road to photograph some anthills …
…nearly results in some punctures.
These haak & steek (hook and prick) thorns seem to be a national concern, as a few kilometres down the road we meet a gang of workers busy chopping and burning the offending bushes.
The A1 national road between Botswana’s major cities (Gaberones and Francistown) is pretty busy, as ususal, with more gates to control the spread of foot and mouth disease.
Firewood for sale: 400 Pula for the logs (each), 60 Pula for the smaller branches in the background and 12 Pula for a bundle of pieces. People have to go further and further to find these. The density is similar to that of coal, due to the slow rate of growth, making this hardehout ideal firewood.
At the Francistown Wimpy it’s Errols turn for some maintenance when his sidestand switch connector starts playing up. I advise against cutting the wires off as these switches are quite simple and quite reliable; it turns out that someone fiddled with this one and deformed one of the spade contacts. We jumper it with a paper clip and are on our way.
After braving the traffic jams out of Francistown we cover the 190 km to Nata before turning back to Nata Lodge, which has the only decent campsite in the area.
Although the entire place burnt down four years ago, there’s little evidence of that now. Even the bathrooms have a rustic African feel to them. I’m almost tempted to shave!
The campsite is very sandy and after wallowing around for a while, we picked a spot between the trees, unpacked the bags, set up shop and prepared another great supper and washed it down with St Louis, the saviour of Botswana’s travellers.
The soft sand has its compensations when you put a mattress down and everyone turns in early so that we can get to the bird sanctuary nearby at sunrise.
Breakfast is consumed on the run as we pack early the next morning. Mrs Owl does her pied piper impression with the lodge’s dogs (and last night’s leftovers).
We don’t quite make sunrise, but the sun is still low on the horizon when we rejoin the Nata-Francistown road. The air is cool but not unpleasant.
Nata Bird Sanctuary is renowned for the migrant flamingos and pelicans that we hoped to ogle in the pans nearby. But unfortunately they only come with the rains, and the rainy season hasn’t started yet. For an entrance fee of 55 Pula it seems like a waste to see the edge of the pans with a few scavengers around, so we turn back north for the border.
Outside Nata are a few settlements along the roadside. Thatch seems to be a major industry here, and it’s used for roofing as well as fencing.
The road itself is tarred all the way – all of 300km to Kasane- but, despite some elephants and kudu early on, it’s boring as hell. Fortunately, my preparation includes a diversion to address this little problem.
It’s called the Hunter’s Road, and we reach the turnoff within an hour, crossing some of the remaining roadworks. And yes, there is a No Entry sign.
There’s a limit to most people’s appetite for boredom relief. It surfaces rapidly when the turnoff turns to this:
Crossed by that:
I have not had a run-in with an elephant yet, but the scenario of a bike digging through soft sand crossing a path with very fresh elephant tracks has all the makings of a regrettable encounter. Discretion wins, and we turn back through the elephant dung to the boring main road.
I don’t like chickening out on a challenge and keep scanning the side of the road for the next turnoff that I saw on my Mapsource. Instead of turnoffs, we bisect a huge sunflower field just before Pandamatenga:
Acres of black cotton soil (“BCS”) with rows and rows of stems as far as the eye can see- a black island in a sandy sea. This stuff has a habit of getting very sticky when wet, quickly coating tyres with a slippery belt. We soon learn that it also tends to be slippery when dry.
I know that the Hunter’s Road passes through Pandamatenga and, just before the border post with Zimbabwe, we find it and hit the dirt.
It initially looks like a gravel highway, but after a few wobbles on unexpected sandy patches and ruts of very slippery BCS “marbles”, I note a parallel track to our right.
It’s the actual border track, and was apparently laid by the then Rhodesian government to patrol its borders. Because there is a shale foundation, the surface a hard-packed and easy to ride, even if it’s only a two-track.
Apart from a short sandy section, this road is great riding.
It doesn’t take long before we run into three men walking along our track. The leader has rheumy red eyes and introduces himself as Impala. They are firemen and everyone gets a 12 hour shift to look for any signs of a bush fire from the platform at the top of this:
I decide to go and have a look upstairs to meet the man in the crow’s nest.
At the moment, all is well in the Kazuma reserve and our visit is the only thing of interest. Although the tower still feels sturdy, the floorboards are quite loose.
Here’s the compound below. There is a water tank (presumably filled from a borehole) and a single tractor, but no trucks. If they spot a fire they would have to get there on foot and beat the flames with tree branches. Quite a common technique in arid countries.
Impala and his friends. They are posted here for XX months at a time, without their families. A rather lonely existence. We hand out some mini-bar booze and soon are the best of friends.
Yes, we can get closer!
He who goes up, must come down.
We leave the forest behind, pass Kazuma Pan and cross the Seloko Plains. Every now and then there’s a warthog hole to keep us on our toes.
The landscape is flat but varied, and we run into some game here and there.
The plains give way to bushveld.
As we stop for a break, I discover a passenger:
It’s a stick insect, and in his natural environment he’s almost undetectable (sorry not sure how to tell if this really is a male or female).
Parts of an elephant skeleton along the way.
Yes, they are bigger than mine.
We hit an intersection with a busy gravel road and rejoin the main road to Kazangula in a cloud of dust.
After some negotiation with the border officials, we are allowed onto the jetty to take a look at the ferry that connects Botswana to Zambia at the confluence of the Chobe and Zambesi rivers.
Two ferries are plying the waters. The larger of the two can take an entire 18-wheeler (about 35 tons)- an impressive payload.
Some of the more stylish passengers come past. They jokingly thumb a lift and one hops on the seat behind me to beat her friends to the immigration counter.