|06-28-2014, 11:59 AM||#1|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Christmas Safari (Botswana & Zimbabwe)
2013 wasnít a good year. Iíve been working my ass off whole year without a break, yet somehow not achieving what I was supposed to. As the year end approached I was in a bad funk, especially as I knew that at least first half of 2014 is not going to be much better. So a proper chat with the universe about WTF was in order and one of the best ways I know for that is a nice solo bike trip.
When I realised in the early December that I may be able to squeeze in 3 weeks off, I got ambitious and decided to do Richtersveld NP on the border of South Africa (SA) and Namibia, which I havenít done yet, and then shoot up to Kaokoland in the northern Namibia and do the Van Zylís pass and riverbeds, which Iíve done a year ago and the good vibes of that trip carried me through the 2013. To get there - I was starting from Johannesburg - I wanted to cross to south Botswana and take the dirt roads heading west north of the Bots/SA border and do some game viewing around Transfrontier national park on the border of Bots/SA and Namibia, before crossing back to SA and heading to Richtersveld.
Getting back to Johannesburg from Kaokoland I wanted to take the northern route along the Okavango delta in northern Botswana. Namibian side was clear - head east through Tsumeb/Grootfontein and hit the dirt roads east from there through Bushmanland to the Bots border at Dobe. The usual route then would be to connect to the tar road going to Maun at Nokaneng and then do the standard ride through Makadikadi pans (one of the biggest salt pans in the world) from Gweta through Kubu island to Letlhakane and then back home. However Iíve done the south side of the Okavango delta couple of times before and as I stared at the map I got intrigued by the possibility to circumvent the delta from the north coming long way around to Maun through the Bots bush north of delta - not the boring Caprivi strip in Nam. This would mean to head from Nokaneng on tar up to Shakawe on the Namibian border, take ferry across Okavango river, then ride south-east through Seronga on the northern shore of the delta and then north-east to Gudikwe and from there find track to Kwai village on the north-east corner of Moremi and then its just straightforward ride back south-west to Maun along the eastern boundary of Moremi.
The problem was I didnít know if there is any track from Gudikwe to Kwai village, this whole area consist of private safari concessions and I didnít know if I would be allowed there. And obviously the fact that I would have to cross about 160km between Gudikwe and Kwai of completely uninhabited area ruled by Big 5 (shorthand for elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and giraffe - I think). I knew they will not let me into Moremi and Chobe national parks on the bike, but from my prior trips on 4x4 I knew that there was a gap between Chobe (Mababe gate) and Moremi (North Gate) - so I assumed that I can pass through there to Mababe village and then Iím on the public road running from there to Maun.
And just for orientation, we are here:
So I cranked-up Google and started looking for the answers. All I got for ďSeronga to Kwai villageĒ were two short threads on SA 4x4 forums. The good news was that you can get from Seronga to Kwai via cutlines (firebreaks) - they were not on the T4A (GPS tracks for Africa) or any maps I had, but I could trace them on the Google Earth and saved the key waypoints. However one of the threads stated categorically that it is off-limits because of the concessions. The other one was from people who have done it in 4x4 and said that as long as you stay on the cutlines and do not camp you should be fine as the cutlines are kind of public service roads. Additional problem was that about 50 km east from Gudikwe the cutline goes through Selinda river which is impassable during the wet season and could only be circumvented going north almost to Nam border via the concessions - so I hoped that I will outrun the wet season that was about to start.
By chance at the same time another biker started thread on the SA adv riding forum wilddog.co.za about possibility to get from Maun to Kasane in the north-east corner of Botswana offroad - via cutlines, albeit different ones than the route I was looking at. The resounding consensus seemed to be not possible, you need to take the long tar route via Nata.
Result of all this research was that I was hooked onto the idea of exploring the cutlines with the Big 5 as kicker and Richtersveld and Kaokoland took back seat. I decided to change the direction of the trip and head north to the Okavango delta first, then move on to Kaokoland and - if time permits I may or may not do the Richtersveld.
Naturally, with the plan this thorough - I usually just head somewhere interesting and figure it out once there - I have ended up doing completely different route, a bit less Rambo, yet it still involving 100s of kms of cutlines in Bots, number of Big 5, and whole new country that I havenít ridden before.
After all this planning, I have promptly engaged in my other big passion - procrastination. As a result I have started from Johannesburg only on the 19th of Dec - instead of the originally planned start on the 14th. On the plus side I have received new lenses I have ordered from US on eBay optimistically three days before the original departure date. On the negative side I knew I would not be able to do the originally planned route in its entirety within remaining time.
As I havenít written any ride report, a little introduction is probably in order: Iím not originally from South Africa. Iím what most of you people call Eastern European - Czech to be specific. Donít call them that in Prague - they are going to get even more grumpy than usual, and technically they will be right. Me, Iíd rather be bundled with Romanians than many of the tribes to the west or south.
Iím not completely new to the adventure riding. I have done two bigger trips. The first - maiden one as I have made driving license and bought my first bike, was three months trip from Prague to Kasmir/Ladakh in India and back - 25k km in 2000. The second one was one year and 40k km trip from Prague to Cape Town in 2005/6 (here are some old pictures from that trip: http://www.malec.name/martin/africa/galerie.php). I got bitten by the African bug, managed to score a job in SA and stayed down here since.
While here, I have done most of the highlights in SA and the surrounding countries. The one that stands out for me was the Kaokoland done in December 2012 with my mate, who unfortunately did not finish the trip due to a fall. Here are some videos from that trip (shameless plug as I have already linked them in the TE630 advrider thread):
Bikewise for the trip I could chose from:
- Husky TE630 that I have used on the trip in Kaokoland and that would be ideal when the going gets tough. However it is a chore for long distance even on the gravel roads as itís just too high strung and unstable on the long boring stretches - much like KTM 690, and no amount of rally fairings and stuff is going to change that on any of those bikes.
- Tenere 660 - the bike Iíve bought after long deliberations as my long distance tourer, with good reliability (hopefully) for solo remote dirt adventuring, adequate long distance comfort and proven/reasonably safe methods to increase performance (very sedate in standard form) for spirited dirt travelling.
As this trip involved long distances over relatively short period of time, Tenere it was.
Xpat screwed with this post 07-01-2014 at 10:41 PM
|06-28-2014, 12:26 PM||#2|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
After lots of laying about and doing bugger all, I have finally managed to get my ass to gear and packed the bike on Wednesday 18/12 for departure the next day. As usually I got ambitious and hoped to make it next day to Kubu island on the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana (about 800 km away) for overnighter. I knew itís a stretch so I set-up alarm to start early to give myself a fighting chance. However the universe was sensing a weakness in my resolve (rat race really did job on me this year) and decided to test if I really mean business over the next few days.
So when I woke up at 5:30 next morning, it was cold, raining heavily, and the sky was covered completely by low leaden clouds that did not seem to go anywhere. Quick check on the internet confirmed that it is raining more or less all the way to Makgadikgadi and the forecast for the next few days looked the same. Now I do not have a problem to get rained on a little bit here and there, but the prospect of being wet and cold for many 100s or even 1000s of km and potentially many days, seemed a bit un-appetising from my warm bed. I do not have proper waterproof gear for riding in Africa as in my experience you can get either cold (winter) or wet (summer), but not both (except maybe in Western Cape and Lesotho). I can handle being wet and warm, so no need for waterproof biking gear for me - I have only hiking waterproof jacket to get me out of bind.
After flapping for a bit - few hours actually in which I have considered reversing direction of the trip again as the weather west looked better than north - I have driven to bike shop in Pretoria to buy that sickly green rain suit. By the time I was done it was lunchtime and the rain stopped.
I finally got on the bike after midday and was off towards Thabazimbi via Hartbeespoort and Brits. The sky was still fully overcast, but there was no rain and the clouds seemed a bit less dense up north. I havenít had lunch yet and as it was pretty clear that Iím not going to make it to Kubu Island or anywhere close, I have stopped for a chow at the Beestekraal Station - a train station converted to a restaurant along the road to Thabazimbi - popular spot for weekend bikers from Pretoria. There I grudgingly reflected over a pancake on the progress so far - it was about 2pm and I have made about 100 km to a place (very nice one to be fair) that would be OK for breakfast run or maybe a quick day dash up to Waterberg and back, but not much of a progress in the bigger scheme of things.
Looking at the map I decided to push on to try to make it at least across the border to Botswana in Stockport 200 km north, so I will have one less hassle to deal with next day. I got back on the bike and after about 20 km on tar, took the right turn-off to Assen, where I turned left and hit the dirt road heading north towards Ellisras between Thabazimbi and Marakele NP.
I hit the dirt with vengeance and immediately found another thing to bitch about - the rear end of the bike was very flighty and all over the show. Now, over the last year and a half I have had the Tenere heavily modified to make it into proper long distance dirt adventure bike, which to me means cheaper KTM 660/690 Factory RR (not 690 enduro with fairing) with ability to carry luggage and less maintenance. To address the inadequate Tenere suspension I have swapped the forks for WP from KTM Rally Replica and have had the shock rebuilt by a bike shop here. So I expected excellent handling and the lack of rear stability did piss me off. However, I have ridden Tenere on the same road a week or two earlier without luggage and the bike was handling great. Quick look at the back made pretty clear why - my bags were hanging far too high and back due to the combination of the incredibly stupid high rear end design of Tenere with the silly stepped seat (sorry this really pisses me off as I cannot rectify this Ďbella figuraí form over function design of some Yamaha buffon) and the SW Motech pannier racks which are too far back to accommodate passenger - I knew that they are not right but didnít want to go through additional hassle of building custom racks (I am looking into that now).
Thankfully I have converted fully to the soft luggage, which is vastly superior to hard cases for any kind of dirt riding in my experience. One of the advantages is that it is not fixed in one place on the bike and can be moved. After quick check of the exhaust headers it seemed I should be able to move the bags to the front onto the passenger footpegs without them catching fire. As it was late I decided to fix the luggage later once stopped for the night and pushed on with the wagging tail.
The dirt eventually did its trick, shut up the annoying whiny little voice in my head and I finally eased into the ride. The road goes through private reserves and I have seen quite a few game - elands, warthogs, impalas and such. Waterberg montains also provides for nice scenery, especially north of Thabazimbi - I have been up there couple of times on daily trips, but always turned back at Thabazimbi and have not seen the mountains from further up north - very nice I have to say.
And the close-up to demonstrate idiot's way of packing a motorcycle for dirt riding:
After about 120 km on dirt I have hit the tar again about 20 km south of Ellisras - I needed fuel. As I arrived to the the outskirts of the town in the late afternoon, I hit the rush hour as people were coming back from work at the power station.
Turning right at the T junction onto the main road I almost dropped the bike in the middle - the rear was completely flat. I pulled off on the shoulder right next to what I assume is the busiest junction in the town (well actually outside), found the nail in the Mitas E09 and established that Iím not going to make it to town without fixing the tube. Now, just two hour earlier this would have sent me into proper bitch fest, but the dirt got me already into the zone and I was reconciled with a bit of motorcycle maintenance - the location could have been better though. I guess that is the reason I like to ride dirt - it makes me surrender to whatever comes and stop trying to control everything like I tend/pretend to be doing in my job/life. Works the same with my executive mates that come to ride with me from Europe occasionally - first day or two I just want to punch them in the face every time they open their mouth and at about day 3 the African dirt turns them back into human beings.
I got the tools out, took the wheel and tyre off. Iíve read stories about how difficult it was to get E09 off the rim, but I did not find it any more difficult than other tyres I have done before - I had 3 tyre levers on me though.
Note the silly high rear end of Tenere:
South Africans being the nice people they are, number of commuters stopped and asked if I need help. Iíve politely declined as I was making good progress until two young guys just parked their car and came to assist without asking. They rode superbikes at home in Joburg (shorthand for Johannesburg) and said they have patched many tubes before. This presented me with a conundrum as I suffer from a bit of split personality. In the normal daily slog I sadly tend to default to the mindless consumerism and just pay someone to do almost any maintenance (bike, house, car, etc.). On the trips however, I tend to make up for it and like to fix shit myself, however haphazard sometimes the fixes are (I have ridden half of Ethiopia with duct tape around the front TKC to strengthen huge cut on the sidewall (with a patch inside the tyre), and with a local moped tube in my rear tubeless tyre - until it exploded at about 100 kmh somewhere close to Arba Minch). I find this real world problem solving hugely satisfying given the seemingly virtual nature of problems I usually deal with in the job.
That said, I have never successfully patched a tube - I tried couple of times before and the patch came off every time within few kms. Even my bike mechanic who knows his stuff when asked how, stops swearing and runs away squealing like a girl. So after about a second of hesitation I handed over to these guys who seemed very confident - they clearly must have been initiated in the black art of motorcycle tube patching somewhere. I watched closely, but the devil must be in the detail imperceptible to my eyes as the guys did exactly what I would have done. Except, somebody once told me that the trick is to let the glue on the patch and tyre dry for about 5 (or 15? minutes) before sticking them together. The guys felt confident about one or two minutes is good enough - for sportbikes anyway. Once they were done Iíve pumped the tube with the little Slime compressor and it seemed to hold - however I had a feeling that I will see that tube again soon. Regardless, Iíve thanked them and they were off - nice chaps.
By the time Iíve put everything back together it was getting dark so I headed to town for sleep over - I do not ride in the dark if I can help it. Iíve slept in Ellisras once before and had trouble finding any place to stay - there are number of signs on the main roads for B&B, but somehow I couldnít find any when I turned into the indicated streets. So I headed for the guesthouse I stayed in last time - donít remember its name, it was sounding old time grandma-like involving Rose or some such. I knew it was pricy but I was tired and dirty and could not be bothered looking around. It wasnít to be, they were full. Instead I went for dinner to close-by KFC to get my energy levels restored before getting lost in Ellisras again.
After about 45 minutes of zig-zagging aimlessly in the dark town I have eventually found some room on the outskirts. It was the standard uninspired guesthouse room with fridge, TV and way overpriced at R400, without breakfast being even an extra option. But I was tired so I just took it. Iíve spent the rest of the evening relocating the soft bags on the bike and fitting camera to the helmet.
I now use open face helmet for adventure riding as it provides for much better ventilation on hot days, makes taking picture much easier as you can use viewfinder without taking the helmet off, and - probably most important - makes for much better contact with people you encounter on the road. People relate to you very differently when they see your face. And, funnily enough, my new helmet, which is some noname (AJS or something) R800 job, is quieter than the full face Uvex I used before, but that one is by far my least favourite helmet (Arai I also had is probably quieter). Some people are concerned about the lack of safety, but that is questionable IMO - open helmet, while not protecting your face in the fall, provides for much better peripheral vision and situational awareness and therefore for better active safety.
Anyway, fitting my Drift camera to the open face helmet proved to be tricky. I prefer to have the camera on the helmet as it is the most efficient for image stabilization. Having it on the side (eye level) also provides for more natural point of view than having it on the top, as well as - the most important - for higher speed impression, which is crucial for the poser value of the resulting video (oh yeah, I pose all right as is probably clear by now from this drivel). The open helmet has obviously less surface to stick the velcro holder on and it has to be moved backwards where the rear slope of the helmet pushes the camera off center. Drift is greatly adjustable in terms of elevation in the holder and horizon alignment - the lens can be rotated about approximately 310 degrees in its socket, but I still wasnít able to get it aligned right on the left side of my helmet. I prefer having it on the left as it enables to capture scenery along the road, rather than oncoming traffic. I ended up fitting it to the right side of the helmet and went to sleep.
|06-28-2014, 01:22 PM||#3|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
I woke up early and after breakfast of Salticrax (local crackers) and canned pate, packed up and was off west towards the power station. The day was shaping up nicely - there were clouds in the sky illuminated by the raising sun but no threat of the forecasted rain. At the power station turn-off I turned north and hit the dirt road heading towards Stockport border crossing about 70 km north. Iíve ridden this road on Tenere before the suspension upgrades and remembered it as tricky affair that you need to pay attention to. It looks easy - your standard Limpopo dirt road going straight through bush, but itís sandy with corrugations and tracks all over the show as cars are trying to find the least corrugated line.
However with the suspension and luggage sorted - no more tail wagging Iím glad to report, it was a breeze and within km or two I completely eased into the ride. The bike tracked great and I could deal with frequent washouts from recent rains with aggression rather than caution that I had to resort to before. I have seen some game along the way and the clouds illuminated by the early morning sun gave me that fresh new day zen feeling - life was good.
So good that the universe felt a need for correction and about 3 km before the border once I hit the tar again the mushy feeling from the back tyre told me that superbike tube patching technique does not work for adventure bikes. To be fair to the guys, it lasted for about 80 km, while my patches usually come off within first 2 km. I coasted off the road next to a little family settlement of about 5 huts or so - with the family already involved in the simple life of leisure we hard nosed professionals work so hard to achieve sometimes in the ephemeral future. I asked one of the guys if there is a place around that fixes tyres. I do not think he fully understood my English - this is Afrikaans territory and I have funny accent - and he offered instead his somewhat modest tool kit. Nice gesture anyway.
Fixing a flat can be good spectator sport - definitely much faster flowing than cricket:
Nicely set-up workshop - note the most important tool featuring prominently in the bottom left corner:
And done. Also good illustration of the vastly superior luggage set-up for dirt riding (sorry I'm short of pictures for this day so have to pad it up a bit):
With this attempt at mindless consumerism averted, I got my somewhat more comprehensive toolkit out (it includes shampoo, which is crucial for greasing the rubber before insertion so to speak) and got to work. The family watched me and their easy vibe rubbed off on me, so it took me good two hours wallowing in the red sand before I was ready to go again. I didnít bother patching the tube as I was healed of the silly belief that it is possible and instead Iíve put in the spare tube.
Not keen to hit the bush up north without spare tube, I retraced 70 km back to Ellisras to get new tube - to save time I took tar. Ellisras is bustling town so I hoped to be able to get the tube there, but kept my optimism in check as I know from experience how difficult it is to get bike spares in SA outside main cities. The best one was when I tried to buy 17 inch tube in what I believe is official Yamaha dealership in Kimberley, where they had brand new Tenere on the floor and the spareís guy told me that they do not carry 17 inch tubes as no bikes use them. Well in a way he had a point - no self respecting dirt capable bike should ride on 17 inches. To cater for the tube/tyre availability and better offroad-ability I have eventually swapped my rear for 18 inches rim.
Back in the business area of Ellisras next to Toyota dealership I found a shop with Yamaha brand all over it - they were mostly selling boats and quads, but they had some farm bikes on the floor which to me seemed like 18 inch wheelers. But no, they do not sell tubes (do farmers make their own rubber?). There was also busy tyre repair shop in the same building, but again, they did not carry motorcycle tubes. They said they can patch the old tube, but I knew better by now (actually, I have seen a motorbike tube patched successfully - but that was long time ago in Pakistan, it seems to be lost art in SA - feel free to let me how its done if you know).
I eventually got from someone a phone number for Gert, who has a shop fixing dirt bikes outside Ellisras. He was out of town, but confirmed that he has a tube for me, even the heavy duty one and his assistant will let me have it - score! Given my history of getting lost in Ellisras, his directions for the shop left me a bit worried. But they were spot on - just in case you need a tube in Ellisras: from Toyota dealership take the main road to Thabazimbi, when passing hotel Palm Springs (or something like that with Springs in the name) on the right, start counting km and the workshop is exactly 5 km out of town on the left - there is a sign for veterinarian.
With the tube safely packed in, I turned north again. As Iíve lost half a day again I decided to go for the main border crossing at Martinís Drift instead of Stockport as it was more direct route to Palapye on the way to Makgadikgadi. As soon as Iíve got to the border I knew it was a mistake - it was holidays and the border was packed with the SA tourists in 4x4s heading for Bots. SA side was OK, but on the Bots side weíve hit big bottleneck. The immigration was fine as there were enough officers to process the load and we didnít even need to fill those little immigration forms anymore, but as usual there was only one window open to pay the mandatory road tax.
For over an hour and a half I fumed in the long line as my blood was boiling in the stifling heat with all my gear on. I have to admit that I have very ambivalent relationship with Botswana. On the one hand it has IMO the best national parks in the world - for me the Okavango delta, especially Moremi deep inside the delta is the shit. It is also probably the best country to conserve African wildlife in its natural habitat as it has very little population and therefore little pressures between population and animals, and as a result its north is one of the last places where animals roam freely and are not fenced in. On the other hand, considering its size, I always felt that there are relatively few opportunities for good dirt riding - yes there is Makgadikgadi (and probably south around Transfrontier), but outside of that most of the places you just have to stick to tar (I was wrong on this one as I was to find out on this trip). But most importantly Botswanian officials have this annoying tendency to stick mindlessly to the bureaucratic rules and no initiative whatsoever to accommodate independent travelers who just donít fit into their standardised tabular worldview. Getting visa for Botswana was always unbelievable hassle with constantly changing rules, and booking campsites in the delta is just plain joke - they are all booked out for almost a year, yet they were always half empty when I was there on numerous occasions. And this in a country for which tourism is second or third biggest source of revenue. Very different from the rest of Africa, where you can always find a way to resolve unexpected issues - and no, I did not have to pay single bribe in my one year travelling through Africa.
By the time Iíve made it through the border the zen was gone I was again my usual grumpy self. Iíve stopped at the Kwa Nokeng petrol station to change money and buy few things. I was aware of the office of Kwa Nokeng Adventures who organize bike trips through Bots, but choose to stay away as I did not want to spoil their day with my foul mood. However Clinton - owner of the Kwa Nokeng Adventures - was there and called me into his office to find out what I was up to. I explained my plan to try to circumvent Okavango delta through the northern cutlines. I could sense that he did not know what to make out of this grumpy sweaty idiot with funny accent trying to navigate solo a track even he hasnít done yet - I found out later from SA biking magazines, that he is probably the most knowledgeable person on the Bots dirt routes. But he gave me a benefit of doubt and suggested an alternative: from Maun go up to the Mababe gate at the south end of Chobe and take 19th parallel cutline along the Chobe southern boundary east towards Pandamatenga on the main road between Nata and Kasane and from there take the Old Hunterís Road on the border of Bots and Zim to Kasane - basically the route the other guy on the wilddog forum was looking for. I knew that 19th parallel goes through 200 km of hunting concessions, but he said that shouldnít be a problem as the hunting season was over and Bots government actually was in the process of taking away the concessions as they are not in line with their conservation efforts. He has done the route with a group before and had no problems - the track was not on T4A GPS tracks or in the map, but he gave me key waypoints to follow. He also recommended Zimbabwe - going along the southern shore of lake Kariba all the way to the town of Kariba and then south to the Eastern Highlands.
I liked the suggested route, but there were just two problems with it - to get to Kaokoland which I was still keen on, going to Kasane is serious detour and I would have to go through the boring Caprivi strip to get there. On the other hand, should I choose the Zim route, I did not have Zim visa which the Czechs need (but I thought I may be able to work around it as they already let me in once before without visa to visit the Vic Falls). Anyway, Clinton gave me his business card and emphasized that should I decide to do the 19th, I should call him before I set-off so that he can send somebody in to fetch me should I not come out on the other side - real gentleman! With my spirits lifted greatly from the meeting of kindred biker I set-off in the late afternoon on the main tar road to Palapye.
Kwa Nokeng garage and Clinton's office right after the border:
Universe immediately spotted the anomaly (optimistic Eastern European) and went for correction. Soon after I set-off I noticed that the bike runs like crap. It was struggling to get over 120 kmh, vibrated and was running horribly lean. Now, to address what IMO is second weakness of Tenere - very sedate power, the first owner and I have made couple of modifications to increase the airflow and the power: LV pipes, DNA stage 3 filter, drilled throttle body to increase airflow to the engine and Power Commander 5 to set-up the mixture correctly. The hope was that the reliability, which is key for this kind of trip, will remain mostly unaffected as none of these affect the moving parts and compression (like drilling the cylinders to 700cc or racing camshaft).
I hoped that the PC5 somehow got disconnected by vibrations and bike reverted to the standard map, but that was not the case. I called my mechanic and he thought it may be dirty air filter. Didnít look so, but I decided to clean it anyway once stopped for the night. I tried to stop and restart the bike couple of times as well as accelerate / decelerate a lot to see if somehow it would not come miraculously right, but it wasnít to be. So back to the doom and gloom then.
About an hour later I arrived to Palapye in the early evening and went straight for re-fuel. As I expected the consumption came over 8 l/100km - normally the bike takes 6 litres when pushed hard. Not good, as I needed at least 400 km range minimum to do the cutlines and with this consumption I would be cutting it way too close for comfort with the 32 litres capacity I had - 25 litre tank (I have had the neck in the tank drilled to increase standard 23 litre capacity by 2 litres) plus 7 litres collapsible jerry can.
On the positive side, I was to sleep in the Itumela Camp, which is one of my favourite overnight places in Bots. Itís deep in Palapye secluded from the hustle and bustle of the town and has that relaxed travellerís vibe with open thatched roof bar/restaurant - unlike the standard impersonal overpriced business accommodation usually found in Botswana outside the tourist hotspots. They had a chalet for me and I settled quickly in before the dinner.
Frog basking in the mysterious smells of Botswanian night:
Over the great buffet dinner and few relaxing beers I have reflected on the pathetic progress so far. Two days into the trip I have made it to about two thirds of the original objective for day 1 - sure an ambitious one, but I have done similar before. The supposedly reliable bike that I spent a lot of time and money to modify exactly for this type of riding was running like crap and there was a good chance that I will have to leave cutlines and Kaokoland out due to the lack of fuel range. Quite sad actually, but the beer kept me reasonably upbeat.
I've noticed that people in RR like to post pics from restaurants. Not sure why but here is the bar in Itumela (to cover up for the lack of pics for the day):
After dinner I have taken the air filters out and cleaned them - but as expected they were clean, and bike still run lean. There was not much more I could so I just prepared everything for early start in the morning and retreated to bed.
|06-28-2014, 10:36 PM||#4|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 3 - Part 1: Palapye - Kubu Island
I woke up at sunrise to get an early start. Objective for the day was Maun via Makgadikgadi pans (large salt pans in the middle of Botswana) and Kubu island
Itumela served breakfast only after 7:00 - too late for me so I set-off with empty stomach. I took the tar east to Serowe and kept religiously to 120 kmh max as the bike run reasonably well up to that speed. Above 120 it just vibrated way too much and felt really unhappy. I had to find out what the consumption will be at those speeds to see if I have any chance to tackle the distances required for the cutline up north (400 km plus).
The day was again shaping up nicely - there were big storm clouds gathering slowly far at the horizon, but I was riding in the clear and there was no immediate threat of the rain.
The Kalahari was unusually green, which indicated that it has been raining heavily for some time already. This was a concern for two reasons. First and lesser one was that the salt pans on the Makgadikgadi could be under water, or deep mud. That wasnít major worry as I could always ride along the sandy banks of the pans, or worst case retrace back to Letlhakane and take the tar to Maun. I love riding the pans, but having done them 4 times before, missing them wouldnít be a major disappointment.
Which was not the case with the cutline (at this stage I was still aiming for the cutline circumventing the delta from the north, not the one to Kasane proposed by Clinton). It was one of the highlights of this trip and I would be seriously pissed off if I did not at least try to get through.
The concern wasnít the cutline per say - the rain would most probably make the deep sand more rideable, but Selinda river crossing about 100 km northwest from Kwai village, as it could be impassable due to high water. The funny part is that I had no clue if I would be able to cross even with the water low. Standard Tenere has air intake already low as the airbox is under the seat. My air intake is even lower as I have the DNA stage 3 filter which basically opens whole left hand side of the airbox to get more air in - seriously limiting the depth of water the bike can go through. I would definitely have to walk the river before attempting to cross it, which on its own will be fun as the river seemed quite wide on the Google Earth (I think the people on the 4x4 forum mentioned that it can be more than 200 meters wide when the water is high - but then I wouldnít even try if it is high) and the chances were there will be crocodiles and hippos. The 4x4s were able to cross in the dry season so there might be a chance, but looking at the green Kalahari and the storm clouds it seemed that wet season was already upon me.
The more I thought about it, the more silly it seemed, but there was no point stressing about it at that point as I had no information about the conditions up there. I still didnít even know if I would be allowed there. Iíll have to figure all that out once in Maun. The good thing was that I had the Clintonís route as a backup - I have checked with Clinton that there are no river crossings on the 19th parallel, so rain was not a factor there.
Apart from playing with different route scenarios in my head, the ride to Serowe was uneventful.
The only excitement was one numbnut in BMW car who caught up with me and sat on my ass for few kms on completely empty high quality tar road. I couldnít get away as I did not want to go over 120, so I slowed down and let him overtake. He did that and then promptly slowed down to about 80 kmh. So I overtook him to get back to my cruising speed and sure enough in no time he was sniffing my ass again. Not sure what it was about - probably just herd instinct when he felt a need for safety in numbers like we were about to enter Fallujah or something. We repeated this exercise one more time and then I stopped to let him go face his fears without my ass for protection.
In Serowe I turned north towards Letlhakane, the southern entry point to Makgadikgadi pans. I arrived there at about 9:30 and started looking for breakfast. There are couple of petrol stations on the main road but none of them had food available. They sent me to Shell in town with adjacent small restaurant and supermarket - very convenient as I needed to eat, buy supplies and refuel.
The restaurant was this little kitchenette with about 5 tables and strict maitresse who acted like she was doing me a favour. This brought back nice memories of growing up in the communist country where customer service was considered despicable perversion of decadent capitalist imperialists (Ďwho do you think you are to be served by fellow comrade, eh?í). I ordered full English breakfast and amused myself with annoying the maitresse by asking for shit I didnít actually need, like serviet, toothpick, tomato sauce and such, just to keep her on her toes.
The breakfast was good though and with the energy levels restored I went for refuel. I was very relieved to see the consumption was back to 6l/100km - if I stick to 120 kmh max. So far good news for my planned cutline shindig. But I still wanted to see what sand in Makgadikadi is going to do to the consumption as the cutlines involved more or less 400 km in dirt, probably half of it deep sand.
The last thing was to buy water - lots of it, which in my case means 12 litres, 3 in my camelback and 9 in the water pouch/bag in the saddle bags. Iím paranoid about dehydration and heat stroke. I came very close to being hung upside down from a tree by the lake Turkana in northern Kenya and having water hosed down (or is it still up?) my ass as that seemed to be (based on advice from two British doctors my co-travellers managed to get on the satellite phone) the only way left to cool me down quickly enough to save me from overheating and very possible death.
At about 11:00, fed and with supplies fully restored, Iíve finally headed out of town, crossed the main east west road to Orapa and hit the road north to Mmatshumo village, the set-off point for Kubu Island. I was surprised as the road to the village was tarred - it was dirt when I was here last time.
In Mmatshumo the tar turned east and I took the sandy track through the village north towards Kubu Island. I knew from my prior trips that I have to cross about 20 km or so of deep sand double track winding through the thorny bush before reaching the pans. This was always the most demanding part of the Makgadikgadi trip - especially on the fully loaded GSA1150 I have used before. However the rains in the past few days compacted the sand and I made surprisingly quick progress through the bush track - much lighter and more dirt worthy Tenere was obviously also major contributing factor.
I still managed to almost bite the dust within the first 100 meters in the bush after hitting the first deep sand track. As usually I could not be bothered to stop and lower the tyre pressure before hitting the sand so the track did it for me - the stopping, I still had to lower the tyre pressure myself. With the pressure right I continued without any further glitch and the bush ride was just sublime. I got quickly into the flow of the track, riding consistently at about 40 - 60 kmh, braking minimally, steering the bike with the rear wheel through the corners and dodging the thorns at exactly the right moments. I used to race skiing in the Europe and riding this track reminded me closely of skiing off piste in the virgin deep snow - once you let go of the need to control shit and the flow just takes over. The Zen was back with vengeance.
I was almost sad when the bush ended and I reached the Sua pan, but I was glad to see that it is dry. I set-off and in no time made it to the southern gate of the Veterinary fence, where I stopped for short chat with the gatekeepers.
Kubu Island above - not mirage:
After the gate I turned right following winding double track through the grassy banks of the pan. Again riding for kilometer of this track was just pure bliss. That is until I jumped on the rear brake to slide into sharp left hand corner and nothing happened. I managed to steer through the corner by quickly opening up the throttle and sliding the rear against the high bank of the track, and then stopped to check whatís going on. There was no resistance in the brake lever. The brake fluid level was right, the brake pads were fine and there was no visible leak - so I assumed that there must air somewhere. I kept pumping the lever and eventually it returned to normal. There was no point trying to try to bleed the brakes in the middle of Makgadikgadi as I have never done it before and I did not have any spare brake fluid on me anyway. It was an annoyance that could potentially limit the fun, but not something that would leave me stranded on the pans.
So I set-off again more cautiously, checking regularly if the rear brake is still with me. It seemed to hold and soon I forgot about it and got lured back into the more spirited riding. The track was alternating between salt pan and grassy sandy banks until the last and longest stretch on the pan ended on the south-eastern corner of the Kubu Island where I got welcomed by beautiful big baobab.
|06-28-2014, 11:14 PM||#5|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 3 - Part 2: Kubu Island -> Maun
Kubu island is rocky outcrop about 2 km long and maybe 1 - 2 km wide on the western bank of the Sua salt pan and home to probably hundreds of baobabs, which you would struggle to find anywhere else at this concentration (I think). From its higher points the island provides spectacular views across the Sua salt pan and fantastic views of the stars in the night as there is no light pollution. Itís very scenic and has been used over the years to epitomise adventure, including number of marketing materials - such as Top Gear, or marketing fliers for GSA 1150 (long time ago when somebody actually rode the BMWs into the wild for photo shoots - today they just photoshop 3 spotless metrosexuals into a creek).
All this didnít seem good enough for some illuminati, and got him thinking (probably watching Clarkson wax Kubu lyrical on the TV) - how can we make it even better? ĎI know, he thought, Ďlets build a pedestal with a plaque and erect a pole with Lekhubu banner - sure must work if it works to push energy drinks or motor oil!í. Luckily this being Africa, the pedestal is already cracking and the salt will hopefully deal with the pole soon.
I have reached Kubu after midday and stopped for pictures and to cool down - the midday summer heat was intense and made worse by relatively high humidity. I left the bike and gear in the shade under the welcoming baobab and went for a little walkabout to take pictures. The baobab leaves were unusually green, and the trunks were brown rather than reddish as I remembered them from before. The midday sunlight just washed the colors away - on the prior trips to Kubu I always overnighted there and could enjoy the best evening/morning light which makes the colors to stand out much better. But still Kubu doesnít disappoint event with sun at the wrong angle.
Back at the bike I poured some two litres of very warm water over myself, forced some more down my throat and lay down for about an hour in the shade to cool down and decide where to from here. On my prior trips I took the track west to Gweta crossing the Ntwetwe salt pan as itís the shortest route to Maun, and enables to cover more distance on the pans rather than tar. Clinton highly recommended the track up north towards Nata, which runs on the high sand bank between the Sua and Ntwetwe pans and is very scenic. I liked that, but the problem was that I was late - it was about 2:00 pm, and I still had to cover about 90 km to tar during the hottest part of the day and most of it in deep sand track (Gweta track - while longer, is probably easier as considerable part is easy riding on the pans). And then I will still have to cover about 280 km on tar to Maun - compared to about 80km less from Gweta. But then - I could always sleep in Gweta if Iím too late and make it to Maun next morning.
I went for the Nata route, and once sufficiently cooled down, geared up and set-off. The track circumvented Kubu from north along the pan and then turned north towards the next gate in the Veterinary fence. The ride up to the gate was easy track winding through a bush - the only problem was the rear brake failing again - I had to stop and pump it up to get it work again. At the gate I had quick chitchat with the gatekeeper and then continued straight north through the deep sand track crossing the grassy plain (the Gweta route turns left after the gate and follows the veterinary fence west). The riding was nice but required focus - the double track was deep and for many km soft sand. The scenery was nice - typical African plain with the long yellow grass and acacia trees flanking the pans on both sides.
Along the way I stopped at two kraals for a little chat with the locals. The first one was full of young boys who were very excited to see me (OK the bike). I tried to find out where all the girls are, but they did not speak any English so I just assumed that it was some kind of boys boarding school set-up or something. At the next one I have asked nice lady who spoke English if there is any chance to get back on the pan and ride it. There were big storm clouds gathering north west towards Maun, and I was looking for an opportunity to speed up and outrun the highly probable rain. I was making good progress on the sandy track, but it was obviously at much slower pace than I would be able to do on the pans. She told me to stick to the track - the pans were way too muddy.
So I soldiered on through the sand. I was getting a tired and sloppy - letís face it, Iíve arrived at the pans way too late and spend most of the day riding hard in the worst heat of the day - and as usually Iíve had way too much fun getting to Kubu to worry about silly little things like energy conservation. So inevitably I went down - twice. First, the track I was in got just too deep and the high edge of the track on the left caught my luggage and threw me to the right - Iíve seen it coming and slowed down so it amounted more or less to just tip over. Second was a bit more risky - my front wheel got thrown out against the left bank where grass got hold of it and stopped it dead. The sudden stop swang the bike 90 degrees left onto the bank. Again, I somehow sensed it coming so luckily leaned back sufficiently to not go over the bars.
Video highlights of the Makgadikgadi:
The last about 10 - 15 km was my favourite double track winding through the bushes and then I was back on tar about 20 km east from Nata. I turned left on the tar and made it 80 km to Gweta, where I stopped at the Shell garage for re-fuel. I remember this place to be a shithole, but man it deteriorated to new low since I was here last. The shop was almost empty, hot and full of flies - I thought I may get quick hamburger or something, but passed. I needed to pump up the tyres - but no, they did not have the compressor. So I unpacked mine and inflated the tyres myself. After filling up with the petrol I was glad to see that the consumption offroad was under 6 litres - so I was good to go cutlining.
By the time I was done it was late and I had about an hour of daylight left - and about 200 km to cover to Maun. The storm clouds west towards Maun were gathering quickly and I could see that it is already raining in places. So I had two options - sleep-over in Gweta or push on to Maun where I would arrive in the dark and most probably wet and/or electrocuted. The right answer was obviously Gweta, but the allure of the cutlines took over and I off to Maun.
To make most of the remaining daylight I ignored the unhappy engine and pushed the bike hard first about 100 km until the light was gone. After that it turned into one big schizophrenia - on the one hand I wanted to push hard to outrun the rain closing on me fast from both sides. And it looked like Iím going to lose - the whole horizon ahead looked as something from the Lord of the Rings, very dark with electric storms raging all over the sky. On the other hand I know how dangerous it is to ride in the dark in these parts - I have hit the cow on the bike before in the dark, and after few close calls with cows, donkeys and zebras, I have eventually resigned and slowed down to about 30 - 40 kmh. Number of times I have actually stopped to let the oncoming cars pass, as their lights blinded me completely. Going this slow, I had to also watch out and get out of the way of the trucks coming from behind, as they were gunning it and didnít give a shit about animals, let alone stupid bikers.
So it was with great relief when Iíve made it finally to Maun after about 2,5 hours in the dark - I even managed to stay dry, the universe stayed on my side this time. In the town I turned right and headed to the Audi Campsite. Audi was almost completely empty - strange as it was holidays and I expected lots of 4x4s as well as overland trucks which like to stay there. I scored one of those furnished permanent tents. Unlike the intrepid grizzly adventurers, Iím not big on camping - I do carry all the camping gear and enjoy it in places where there is no alternative like Marienfluss, but if there is reasonably priced fixed accommodation available I go for it. I just find tent too cramped with all the gear and way too much work after/before a long day in saddle.
Once settled in I went for dinner of proper fillet steak and couple of bears. After the highly stressful 3 hours the life was good again - I felt like I dodged the bullet (OK, donkey) a bit on those last 100 km.
So, naturally the universe not to overdo itself, went for correction again. In the bar Iíve caught up with the Audi manager and asked him about the cutlines. He told me very categorically that I should forget it - itís national park areas and no bikes are allowed there and should I be caught there will be severe repercussions. This put a damper on my mood right there, but I did not give up yet as I was pretty sure from the maps and chat with Clinton that the cutlines do not go through the parks. I will have to figure it out the next day.
|06-29-2014, 09:48 AM||#6|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 4 - 5: Maun
I have planned one day off in Maun to get more definite information on the cutlines and make final call about where to from there. The options were wide open:
Option 1: original plan to circumvent the Okavango delta from north via cutlines through Kwai village and Seronga. From there quick dash to Kaokoland through Bushmanland in Namibia (Richtersveld was at this stage already out). This was still the most prefered option and the key point for decision was the water-level of the Selinda river.
Option 2: Clintonís recommendation to take the 19th parallel cutline from Mababe Chobe gate east to the Nata - Kasane tar, sleep-over in Pandamatenga and then take the Old Hunters Road on the Bots/Zim border up to Kasane. From there - if I can get in - go Zimbabwe. This was close second.
Option 3: chicken route - option 1 except for the circumventing the delta from north - i.e. head from Maun on tar along the southern shore of delta and take dirt across the border in Dube. Definitely the least desirable.
I also wanted a mechanic to check the brakes and either bleed them or replace the brake fluid. But it was Sunday and all workshops were closed. Telling sign of a good trip is when you lose sight of what day of the week it is. And the iron rule is that if you need to arrange something urgently, its Sunday (or Friday in a Muslim country). Never one to miss an opportunity for procrastination I decided to stay one more day and sort out the brakes on Monday.
In the meantime the focus was on intelligence gathering. Iíve positioned myself strategically in the bar using variety of beverages for cover. The bar was perfect for two reasons. It overlooks the Audi entrance and therefore lures in the human traffic for interrogation. Itís also the only spot for the electronic data gathering as you may occasionally get wifi signal if you sit just right and do not move too much. The downloading speed brought back nice memories of loading ZX Spectrum games from magnetic tape in the 80s. But the camp was very quiet and there was nothing else to do so I searched for brake bleeding instructions and waited patiently sipping on the beer and swiping the flies away.
The patience eventually paid off. First, the camp manager walked in and apologised for the day before. He thought about it and realized that he does not have a clue whether cutlines go through parks or not. He advised to check in town with the Bots Wildlife authority and Kwai Development (or Conservation?) Fund, so I pencilled that into my busy Monday schedule. He also told me that it has been raining heavily for month or two already - so much for dry season, not a good sign for Selinda crossing.
Next, 4 or 5 muddied 4x4s rushed in and screeched to halt, but not before the doors flew open and people fell out shouting ĎBeer!í. After they cleared their throats I swooped in to check where they came from. And sure enough,they came from Kasane via the 19th parallel cutline - thank you universe! Not to push too hard too soon I let them settle in - they looked ready for little R&R and one of their cars had to be towed with an alternator problem, so they had a work to do. They were a big group from Durban and surrounds and have been on the round trip through northern Botswana.
I continued to man the waterhole throughout the day and intercepted them one by one as they came for inevitable re-fill . Their accounts sometimes contradicted but eventually I pieced together the following: They came all the way west from the Nata / Kasane road via the 19th parallel cutline in 3 days. They did the longest part - 200 km of cutline from tar to about 1 km east of the Mababe gate, in one day. But the track stopped there (they could see ahead the flags on the gate through their binoculars but could not reach it) and they couldnít find any alternative so spent most of the next two days hacking their own track through the bush and cotton mud to the Mababe village (about 30 - 40 km south) and from there took the public dirt road to Maun (about 130 km south-west). I was surprised by them not finding the track to the village as there was one indicated on the map and Clinton told me that there is one. Somehow, despite our efforts, we were not able to decipher their GPS tracks so I had to figure that one out on my own. Otherwise the cutline according to them was reasonably easy straight sandy track - just watch out for elephants that are everywhere and their dug-outs some of which could swallow a car. They also did (or tried) the Old Huntersí Road but said that the cotton mud was horrific and nobody goes there.
To get some info on how to bleed the brakes Iíve started threat on WD. Lecap and Andy660 kindly replied with the instructions, but Lecap recommended to find someone who knows what they are doing, or rather leave it alone (as they were still working most of the time) and just pack some brake fluid for emergency.
By the end of the day the route seemed clear - with heavy rains for at least past two months my chances of getting across Selinda were really slim, so it was north-east to Kasane via the 19th parallel and Iíll decide there between Zim and Nam.
Audi campsite (Audi means eagle in Bots, not the car brand for ladies):
Hornbills trying to look cool:
Middle aged Eastern European trying to look cool (sincere apologies for this redneck porn, I do not have any nice african scenery or animals pictures for this installment, so this ape will have to do):
Next morning was Monday and I headed to town to sort things out. First I looked for mechanic, but it was December 23rd and all workshops were already closed for holidays. To have a backup for emergency Iíve bought little plastic bottle with hose for brake bleeding and half a litre of brake fluid. Next I went to enquire about the cutlines to the Wildlife authority and the Kwai Development Fund. None of the people there felt itís off limit - except the parts in the national parks. I did not get a sense that they really knew what Iím talking about, but it was good enough for me to justify that Iím not trespassing. Last, I went to resupply with water, food and petrol. Iíve filled up my tank as well as additional 7 liters in the military green collapsible jerry can. If everything went OK, the next petrol station in Pandamatenga was 400 km away which I should be able just about to make on the tank. The additional 7 litres were for emergency should I need to turn back or get lost.
Iíve spent rest of the day in the campsite by the pool chilling. The Durban gang, who took day off to recoup from their road building up north, invited me for a dinner of potje. I did not want to abuse their hospitality after all the help I got from them, but they insisted and realizing that Iím just being an asocial dick and I accepted gladly. The potje was fantastic and we chatted a bit about our travels. One gentleman in the group has ridden with his son, who was also part of the group, on two KLRs from Durban to London (or Dublin?). It was quite interesting to compare our experiences. They were very unimpressed with Africa and ended up shipping their bikes from Kenya (due to some conflict up north) to Italy to finish their trip through Europe - which they loved. Iím exact opposite could not care less for Europe and loved every minute in Africa - to the point that it got stuck with me.
After dinner and farewell, I packed my stuff for the early start next morning and hit the bed. For a while I could not sleep as I was contemplating wisdom of this whole thing. I was to ride solo through at least 200 km of no-mans land in Kalahari in the middle of Botswanian summer with big 5 and all the other african crickets for company. I had no satellite phone and no GPS tracks to follow (except the ones Iím going to be making should I need to retrace back) and one waypoint from Clinton. The bike was running crap and the brakes were failing here and there.
Iíve done similar shit before - Kaokoland riverbeds, Flat Dogs to Petauke in Zambia, crossed few parks in Eastern Africa, but somehow this one felt a notch riskier. On those other trips there were usually some people (be it Masai or Himbas) within 50 km. I always argued with myself that given enough water, some food and no major injury, I should be able to walk out 50-60km. On this trip the worst case scenario - midpoint of the cutline - was 100 km walk. With the daily temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius, my only chance would probably be to walk in the night among the prowling predators. Hmmmm.
But then - fuck it, I really wanted to do this and there was no point dwelling on what-ifs. Iíll use my standard Ďfrog in the slowly boiling waterí operating procedure, which is to proceed tentatively telling my scared little self that I can always turn back, then proceed little bit more, then some more until Iím at the point when itís clearly less scary to make it through.
On that note I fell asleep.
|06-29-2014, 11:02 PM||#7|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 6: Part 1
It was still dark when I woke up. The clouds in the east were beginning to light up and I was up for one of those trademark african sunrises. Like so:
For some reason this reminded me of the line from Lord of the Rings ĎRed dawn, blood has been spilledí (I have to go see some new movies). Weirdly, this cheered me up in the lowly Ďbetter them than meí way, like the lions were fed and asleep - I needed any encouragement I could get.
I packed up and set-off. Some of the Durban gang were already up and about, so passing by the little boy in me could not resist temptation to slide the rear wheel around the deep sand corner. My wheel got hooked up in the heavy moist sand (morning dew, idiot) and I got thrown off the line and almost high-sided. Then the sand gave way and the lost traction almost seen me on my ass lowsiding. Iíve managed to tame the pissed off bronco, but rather did not look back to see the reaction of the audience and exited the campsite in a hurry. Fitting departure for someone who over the past two days tried to impress anybody in the sight as a cool seasoned biking adventurist. This is good example why solo adventuring in remote places may be safer and enjoyable than most think - at least for me, I donít do this shit when there is no one to impress.
Once I made it out of Audi driveway to the tar I took the left turn north-east. This is the road going from Maun to Moremi South Gate, as well as Chobe Mababe Gate so itís frequented by the cars going for safari. The sun just made it over the eastern horizon and the villagers and stock were already out going about their life. In tune with the morning I took it easy at about 60-70 kmh, to not disturb the easygoing morning vibe and to stay warm - early morning was still quite chilly on the bike .
After about 20 km I crossed the veterinary fence and was now officially in the big 5 territory - the gatekeeping lady did not seemed surprise seeing the bike, which I took as another confirmation that Iím not trespassing. The road turned into hard corrugated dirt with cm or two of sand of top. After another few dozen kms I have arrived at the fork in the road - the left turn north to the Moremi South Gate, and seemingly less frequented straight road to Mababe village and Chobe.
Going straight, I immediately felt like Iím in Moremi - with the alternating forest and bush flanking both sides of the road and high possibility of animal encounter. The thing is - Iím scared of animals. I grew up as a boy in small town in Slovakia, where people and animals had what I consider normal hierarchy - people on top, animals follow. As a boy I was not scared to chase away german shepherd if it threatened me - the animals were conditioned to understand their proper place and people were fully entitled to enforce it. Since, I have lived for a long time in big cities, where the hierarchy is completely messed up - many people cannot control their dogs considering them part of the family way above other people. So you end up in this schizophrenic situations when a neurotic chiwawa tries to tear your jeans-pants apart, while the blase owner says things like Ďshe never hurt anybodyí. In the good old world I would just kick the bastard 5 meters away - unless the owner would get there first and kick it away him/herself. Try it today and you have fight on your hands (which may be fine if its a man, with woman that is not an option), or worse - lawsuit.
I think ability to discern and trust the natural hierarchy is key in the self-assuredness of the experienced bushman during their animal encounters, them being Masai or trained safari guides. My cushy city life eroded this ability and left me clueless when encountering animals - especially the african ones. Yes, I have seen many videos, including the one of drunk idiot chasing elephant bull by just running at it and heard/read princely advices like Ďwhatever you do donít runí, but good fucking luck trying any of that. Once in Ruwenzori I was squatting in the forest with my eye firmly pressed to the viewfinder taking picture of young gorilla male showing off about 5 meters away. Unbeknownst to me a dominant silverback creeped to about 1,5 meters to my right, and out of a blue let out pissed-off growl. If it wouldnít be for the guide who has seen it coming and literally pinned me to the ground from above with his weight, I would be off like a bullet. And the daddy wasnít even threatening me, he was just keeping the youngster in place. He clearly knew his hierarchy and did not consider me male enough to be any threat whatsoever.
The only tricks up my sleeve were speed and anticipation (and aftermarket exhaust probably) - both of which required reasonably open and good track for visibility and quick getaway. The road up to Mababe village was good and wide so soon I relaxed and at 60 - 70 kmh proceeded checking both sides of the road for game. Eventually I came across two herds of elephants. First herd was crossing the road about 150 meters in front of me - I did not try to get closer as I already have pictures of my bike with elephants and do not like to bother animals more than absolutely necessary. The second herd was on the side of the road - most of the elephants moved on my arrival further away into the bush, but one bull stayed about 40 - 50 meters from the road to protect the rear I assume. He was surprisingly unfazed by the bike - elephants usually hate bikes because of the noise and speed I assume. He left me in peace to take few pictures and video. Stupidly I forgot to change the high ISO on the camera used in the morning to capture the sunrise and the pictures ended up horribly overexposed. Like this:
I arrived to Mababe village about 130 km from Maun at about 8:00. Mababe was little collection of few houses where the main road turns left to the west towards Kwai village at the Moremi North Gate. Straight ahead continues small double track closely hugged on both sides by dense bush. This was the track I was to take to get to the 19th parallel further north. I had a look and it did not look good - I could see number of mudholes already on the first 100 meters before it disappeared in thee bush. I knew this was potential showstopper from the Durban guys who spent two days in 5 cars with winches and stuff to make the 30 km from the 19th to Mababe village through the cotton mud - even though they missed this track. I was not keen to try to drag my bike through 30 - 40 km of cotton mud in a dense bush of Mababe Depression marsh full of Big 5 - no visibility or quick getaway there for sure. Even if there were no animals the cotton mud would have me knackered within km or two. I thought for a moment about pushing on to the Kwai and attempt the original norther cutline west, but the chances of getting through Selinda seemed nil. Shit does it end here?
There were few guys milling around in the village and I asked them about the track. They spoke surprisingly good English (I assume they were rangers or guides from the parks) and the confirmed that the track is no go. But when I explained them that Iím trying to get on the 19th parallel to go to Kasane they told me about another west - east cutline about 15 - 20 km back south crossing the road I came on, which should get me to the 19th. They said there is no mud or river crossings on the cutline as it is outside of the Mababe Depression. I asked whether its not off limits due to hunting concessions they said its no problem - people from around there sometimes use it as a shortcut east. I thought about it for a while - this cutline will have to be even more remote than 19th as that is at least occasionally used by tourists as proven by the Durban gang and Clinton. Also it was strange that I just came from there scanning my surroundings carefully for animals and could not recall any cutline. I checked the map and there was the north - east shortcut to the 19th parallel, but it looked to me that was the track I was standing at.
Another 4x4 full of rangers came from Kwai village came and also confirmed about the cutline south that can be used to the 19th. They also said that using the cutlines through concessions is no problem. So with all excuses gone there was nothing to it but head back south and see whatís what. I have refilled my tank from the jerry can and eaten a lunch bar to get some energy and set-off back towards Maun.
Little teaser for part 2 of Day 6 (sorry - again short of pictures for this instalment):
|06-30-2014, 11:00 AM||#8|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 6: Part 2
Sure enough, about 20 km south of Mababe there was a big cutline about 20 - 30 m wide with elevated banks on each side heading straight east - so much for my situational awareness during the ride up. I set-off tentatively on full alert looking for a sign to turn back. The riding was quite easy - double trek which alternated regularly between compacted smooth dirt at the lower points (I assume from the water that may concentrate there), easy sand that could be ridden at 80 or so and deeper sand trek at the higher points. This enabled to rest on the easy bits and then take the trickier bits with enough speed to make good steady progress. The cutline was flanked by dense bush on the sides, which occasionally opened to the plains with scrub bush gardened by elephants.
The added complication to watching your line in the sandy trek, was a need to constantly scan the horizon for animals I may run into. Signs of the animals were everywhere: There was a strong animal smell hanging in the air - the whole cutline smelled like riding 200 km through a stable and the trek was overrun by animals. There were animals tracks and dung everywhere, to the point that in some places the trek disappeared completely and it was like riding through a ploughed field. Despite all this I have bumped only into two herds of elephants and one giraffe on the cutline - Kalahari was very green from the rains and the animals were dispersed deeper in the bush. When Iíve seen elephants I always stopped at least 100 - 150 m away to not bother them and not get boxed in the cutline.
This paid off on the second occasion, when I stopped and before I could take my camera out an angry elephant growl from the dense bush to my immediate left sent me packing - I executed faultless pivot turn in the deep sand (didnít know I can do that) and backed off another 100 meters. Luckily I left my engine running. I donít understand why in the 21st century bikes have to go through 10-20 seconds of light and sound show before they can start - I would send those engineers for a little jol through Kalahari, to get their thinking straight. I gave the elephants enough time to move on and then gunned it through that section as fast as I could.
From the chat with the rangers in Mababe I expected the cutline to veer off north-east and connect with the 19th parallel. Pretty soon it became obvious that the cutline is going straight east in parallel with the 19th. This was a bit of concern as I didnít have a clue if Iím on the right cutline and if its going all the way through to tar. One comforting thing were fresh tracks of a single car I followed for the first 40 km or so into the cutline - the car must have been through here after the last rain, which at least in Maun was 2 days ago. The car tracks eventually turned off into the bush to what I assume must have been hunters camp and from there onwards I was on a virgin double trek used only by animals. I was making good progress in the first 50 - 80 km section, the only close call being when I jumped at speed over a hump and landed with front wheel squarely on the edge of wheel sized one meter deep hole left by elephant who must have put its feet through soft mud here before it hardened. Luckily WD forks saved my ass and the stunt made me approach any further humps with caution.
At about km 50 the cutline crossed another north - south cutline . While I couldnít be sure I assumed that this is the connection to the 19th parallel that the rangers talked about. I have considered taking it, but it seemed even more unused than the one I was on so I pushed on eastwards. Further on I crossed two more north - south cutlines - man, this place needs proper exploration.
The deeper I got the more difficult the track became, the middle portion being the worst. The cutline was still clearly distinguishable in the bush, but the place felt completely deserted and the bush was starting to grow over. The trek at this stage was deep sand winding for 30 - 40 km around the heaps of deep sand dug out by elephants and hardened by rains - much worse than the sandy parts in the initial section. Winding through the deep sand trek sapped my energy and seriously limited my speed. Which was a problem as it was getting hot - it was close to noon now, and slower speed did not provide for necessary ventilation. This, combined with hard work put me squarely at the risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
The crisis came at about midway (100 km into the cutline) when I had to stop and rest often. It was disheartening to muster my determination, set-off, push hard till the next stop and find out that Iíve made 800 meters or so. Eventually the exhaustion took over, I got sloppy, thrown off the line, tried to save it and ended up flying over the handlebars. The speed wasnít high and I landed in deep sand emerging unscathed, but I was knackered.
I picked-up the bike and crawled to the bush to get some rest and cool down a bit laying under the sparse bush - I did not dare go deeper for the fear of animals. This is the kind of situation when hardened adventurers manifest steely determination. Me, I start flapping. The voices in my head - sarcastic bully (nothing is ever good enough) and well-meaning wimp (anything is good enough) had a field day. ĎSo what are you going to do now idiotí said the bully, Ďyouíve done enough, maybe you should turn backí said the wimp. Yadayadayada.
Eventually I cooled down enough to start thinking again and pondered my options. One was to turn back as I already knew whatís there. I had enough petrol, but I was already 120km into the cutline, so had only 80 km to the tar - that is assuming the cutline actually goes all the way through, which I didnít know. Second was to camp where I was, wait for the day to cool off and try again in the evening or in the morning - or hyenas, whichever comes first. The third one was to push on but try to ride off the trek - the cutline is wider than the trek so you can ride on its sides. Iíve done it earlier to avoid tricky sections and it worked fine, but the sand there was nice and flat. Where I was now the sand was heaped up nilly willy from all the elephant break dancing and I thought hopping up and down may tire me down more than the winding trek (it surely does in de Wildt). I decided to give the off-trek ride a go - I could always camp few hundred meters further if it does not work.
And work it did. The sandy heaps were actually softer than I thought and I was able to plough straight through them at speed without worrying about my line. This enabled me to pick-up speed, which in turn cooled me down and soon I was making good progress again. After another 10 - 20 km I made it out of the heavy sand into what seemed to be again more frequented section similar to the one at the beginning - no discernible car tracks, but much easier riding. My situation improved significantly - I was now able to ride long sections at speed sitting down conserving my energy and cooling down at the same time. Every passed km also progressively improved my chances of walking it out should shit happen - great morale booster.
At about km 160 (40 km to the tar) I have noticed a thatched roof in the bush on the left - probably hunting lodge. I did not pay visit as I was not sure if they would like me there.
And then, I was done. I still had about 20 km of cutline and about 80 km of tar to go, but I was done. The voices in my head stopped. All the thinking, worrying, planning, strategizing have stopped and I was just there riding through a beautifully green Kalahari bush and forest completely relaxed. Pure joy with no agenda whatsoever. I have done what I came for and I was at peace.
When I finally made it to the main Nata - Kasane tar road (about 130 km north of Nata and 80 km south of Pandamatenga at 2:00pm), I stopped in the shade under a tree to savour the moment and to pee. I could not squeeze out a single drop - a stage of dehydration that precedes onset of hallucination in my experience. Iíve pulled out of the saddle bags reserve warm water, about 5 of the Rehydrate powder sacks, and fixed myself few litres of yummy concoction (the Rehydrate is basically mix of salt and sugar, with some flavour to cover it up a bit) to get back in the proper pissing shape.
Iíve spent next hour chilling in the shade, sipping on the warm cocktail, and checking regularly how am I doing on the pissing front. I was a real inspiration for the passing traffic as on 3 three separate occasions a car full of locals stopped next to me for a piss break to support me in my quest. I guess the western individualistic need for privacy does not translate well into the strong community sense of the Botswanian people.
Once I could piss again with gusto, I leisurely packed up and set-off again towards Pandamatenga. I have briefly considered taking the dirt track across the road heading east towards the close-by Zim border where it connects to the Huntersí Road. But Clinton advised me strongly against the section of Hunters road south of Pandamatenga due to the high poaching activity. Adventured-out for the day, I took tar - I was in no hurry and cruised at about 80 - 100 kmh looking for the wildlife. Along the way I came across two herds of elephants. The first one moved into the the bush on my arrival. The other - bigger, congregated around waterhole drank and grazed in peace completely unfazed by the passing traffic.
In Pandamatenga I re-fuelled at the Shell garage and noticed that most of the trucks there carried Kwa Nokeng logo. It seems Clinton has much more on his hands than just little Adventure biking company.
There seemed to be two options available for accommodation in Panda - some kind of rest camp in the village and a lodge about 10 km further north. I went for the lodge. It was a nice small family run affair with bar & restaurant, chalets and private waterhole used by the passing game. I was the only guest and, once settled in one of the chalets, Iíve spent the rest of the evening chatting to the family and locals in the bar and watching the animal traffic at the waterhole over the Christmas Eve dinner.
As far as the Christmas Eves go, this was a good one.
Route (I've planned to do the blue route, ended up doing the red):
Video summary of the day:
|07-01-2014, 10:38 PM||#9|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
I woke up to another nice sunny day - Christmas Day to be exact - with puffy white clouds for a background. The objective for the day was Kasane 100 km north. I packed up and after hearty English breakfast set off.
I came here with the plan to ride Hunters road along the Zimbabwean border, hopefully encountering lots of game. However, all the people Iíve talked to over the last 3 days said that itís a no-go because of the mud (Ďup to your gatí as the lodge owner put it). So naturally I had to have a look. I retraced back to Panda, where I turned left towards the indicated Bots/Zim border crossing few km away. About 50 meters from the border Iíve turned left on the red soiled cutline heading north - the northern section of the Hunterís road.
My understanding is that that the Hunterís road runs along the Zim border all the way from Nata to Kazungula about 300 km. Clinton warned me off the southern section between Nata and Panda because of the heavy poaching activity and attendant risk of aimed shot wound. According to him even Botswanian army otherwise very active in fighting the poachers, does not go there.
The surface at the beginning of the road was wet but no mud surprisingly - just firm red soil. I settled into easy cruising speed looking out for any animals I can spot. It seemed odd that all those people I talked to would be wrong, but maybe they just havenít been here for a while - it was about 6 days since the Durban gang have been here and the cutline may have dried up since.
But they were right as I was about to find out within the first 10 km. Iíve came across the first big mud hole full of water after about 5 km. Iíve managed to bypass that one gingerly along the elevated muddy bank to the left. About 5 km further Iíve came across much bigger water filled mud hole covering the whole width of the cutline. Iíve checked the bush to the left, but it was just marsh as far as I can see. So I tried to pass on the steeper right bank but eventually got stuck about two thirds of the way. Both E09s were completely clogged by the cotton mud with the rear dug in and there was no way I could ride that one out.
Not being able to put the bike on the stand I leaned it against the right bank and went to check the bush on the right. It was dry enough to ride out, there was even good dry double trek running in parallel with the cutline about 20 meters to the right that I could potentially proceed on further. But it was marked Ďillegal roadí on the T4A - I believe it runs on the Zim side of the border. So I had two options once I get unstuck. Continue north on the Hunters road and use the trek on the Zim side to bypass big mudholes in the cutline (assuming the trek remains dry) - obviously at the risk of becoming a guest at Robert Mugabeís prison should I get caught. Or turn back.
Normally, with tar being the only other option I would have pushed on - especially as it was Christmas Day and the border patrols would be probably more relaxed about their patrols. But the night before staring at the map over the dinner I found another potential alternative. The map was showing treks going from tar south of Panda north-west towards Chobe eastern boundary and then following the Chobe boundary north all the way to Kasane. None of these treks were on T4A, but the map provided GPS waypoint for the trek entry point and another 2 waypoints on the Chobe boundary that I could aim for once on the trek. With alternative this attractive I decided to turn back.
To get unstuck I pivoted the bike on the ground 90 degrees to the right over the edge of the bank - another good reason to carry your saddle bags up front on the passenger pegs as they are great as pivoting point close to the COG - much like the sideways cylinders on GSes. I cleaned the mud of the tyres, picked the bike up and ridden it down the bank and then took a half circle across Bobís real estate back to the dry part of the cutline.
Once back in Pandamatenga, I turned south on the main tar Iíve came on yesterday. South of Panda there is about 10 by 10 or so km of cleared fenced bush used to grow stuff - not sure what. I was always surprised to see any agriculture up here as I thought the soil is basically infertile sand not able to support anything of economic value.
The entry point I had on GPS from InfoMap for the shortcut to the trek to Chobe was about 100 m north from the northern fence of the farm. It was a very muddy trek winding through bush and way too slippery. after about km I retraced back to tar to look for an alternative. I tried wide sandy road along the inside of the southern fence 5 km south, but within the 5 km Iíve came to the rear fence - a bit stupid on my side, surely they will not let the rear open in the place teeming with african game all around. So back to tar.
I rode another 20 km or so south to where T4A was showing road going from tar north west stopping dead after few km - but I thought Iíll see if it actually continues further or crosses any other tracks as it seemed to be at the point where InfoMap indicated start of the trek (stupidly without a waypoint this time). The track was actually showing on GPS in thick red line - the same as for the main tar road. On the way there I was wondering if Iím so dumb to miss a tar turn-off going west on my way up.
Iím not (at least this time) - the trek was barely visible double trek hugged closely on both sides by thick forest. There were few small stones laid across the entry point seemingly indicating no entry - but there were no signs and I knew from Clinton and the lodge owners that this is no concession but a forest reserve open for public. So I took it.
I proceeded tentatively as there was limited visibility because of the thick forest or alternating bush on both sides - first time I would see lion/elephant/buffalo would probably be when we connected. Riding wasnít particularly difficult even though the trek seemed unused. There were some longer sandy sections, nothing dramatic. That said I would probably not be able to outrun committed lion here.
So I was pleased to come across well maintained north-south cutline after about 10 km . It wasnít going in the right direction - I didnít have any GPS tracks (except the tar one I was now supposedly on) and was just aiming for one waypoint about 50 km north west in Kalahari. The trek was continuing in the right direction on the other side of cutline, so I continued on that one, but this time knowing that I have an alternative to explore. After few more km it became obvious that the trek has been deserted for quite a while. It was still visible and should I not be in the lion/elephant/buffalo/rhino/leopard territory I would happily continue. But here it felt just plain dodgy, so I retraced to the cutline and took-off north.
The cutline after about 20 km came to the south-west corner of the above mentioned agricultural estate. Iíve been in that corner only an hour or so earlier - however on the inside of the fence. Also another big west-east cutline crossed the one I was on at this point, while was turning noticeably to the north west. Looking at the GPS the waypoint I was heading for seemed to lay somewhere in the middle between the directions of the two cutlines. No point dwelling on this too long, I turn left and took the one going west.
The riding was nice and reasonably easy but after about 20 km or so Iíve noticed on the GPS that I was crossing the trek I entered the bush on - GPS still indicating solid tar. The trek had right direction so it was obvious that Iím heading way too south - unless there is another cutline turning north later. I continued for another 10 km or so when the cutline turned about 45 degrees to the south-west and was going in that direction as far as I can see. Clinton mentioned that if I come on the 19th I do not need to take it all the way to the tar, but turn north-east (from the opposite direction) and arrive almost directly in Pandamatenga. I believe strongly that I would have come out on this cutline. But it was taking me clearly away from where I was heading to so I turned back. Iíll do this one next time.
When I came back all the way to the agri estate, I turned back left on the first cutline I came on and headed north-west. The cutline initially was swamp and I had to ride on the high banks to bypass mudholes in the middle. I have seen three warthogs running away at the first mudhole. Pretty soon it became obvious that the cutline was actually heading for my waypoint on the Chobe boundary and I eased again into the ride.
On the way I came across number of antelopes running across the cutline, as well as giraffe family chilling on the cutline.
I have eventually arrived to the waypoint and found this:
I believe this trek continues to the Tchinga campsite in Chobe NP. Luckily there was also this:
This trek run along the eastern Chobe NP boundary slap bang towards the other waypoint up north. After chilling a bit I took it with a bit of apprehension. While I did not have tracks on T4A, it was showing about 30 km of marshes on the Tchinga pan between where I was and the next waypoint up north. I have already retraced twice today because of mud, so it did not seem reasonable to expect that I will be able to make it across 30 km marsh, this time deep in the bush.
The boundary was visibly more deserted than the trek into Chobe. Even though still in the bush, soon enough I knew that Iím entering the marsh as the ground everywhere was covered in the lush green grass. So far I was able to bypass easily any mudholes on the higher banks and the ride was actually quite uplifting due to vivid colours. After few more km the bush stopped and as far as I could see was just grass plain.
Luckily, while there were some 100 meters long mud holes with standing water in places, the higher bank of the cutline was firm and I could ride at speed even though it was somewhat off-camber. I also stopped incessantly looking out for animals as I could see for km around and spot anything soon enough - for picture or escape.
Or so I thought. There were occasionally places with few scrubs sticking out on the plain next to the trek. While going through one of those on the bank with watery mud hole to the left and scrub to the right, Iíve noticed to golden coloured beasts running ahead of me in parallel with the trek about 15 - 20 meters to the right. It was pretty obvious what Iím staring at but it took my brain a second or two to click that itís really looking on two lionesses. Luckily it also realized that they are actually running away from me and the animal in me instinctively gave a chase (human in me was too dumbfounded to know better). I continued on my line at good speed to bugger off if this would go wrong and soon got level with them to the right. As soon as I caught up they turned 90 degrees and moved away from the trek. Iíve stopped tentatively and spend some time checking 360 degrees if there isnít backup waiting around, and by the time Iíve settled down for pictures they moved too far into the marsh and laid down. Well at least I scored some low quality video of the pass-by.
When I reached the waypoint on the other side of marsh it was a T junction of my trek and another west-east cutline. According to map I was to turn west here for km or two and then right again and continue along another northern cutline all the way to Kasane. But left, there was clear Chobe NP no entry sign again.
So the only option was to turn right and head east back to tar (I hoped as this cutline wasnít on the map) about 30 km away. The cutline returned back to marsh for a bit and eventually entered the Kasane Forest Reserve before coming on tar. On the way Iíve seen some zebras and baobabs, like so:
The exit point on tar was about 50 km south of Kazungula and I set-off north. About 10 km before Kazungula I stopped at the police checkpoint. Normally these things annoy me properly - I donít see the point of permanent checkpoints in democratic country not in war, except to bully people. But here policeman pointed out for me the herd of elephants grazing peacefully on the edge of the forest about 50 meters from the checkpoint. This must be one of the universes practical jokes - after riding about 150 km in the bush today, the first elephants I see second as a police backup.
In Kazungula I stopped at the garage for re-fuel and sloppy hamburger. Once done I headed to Kasane. Except, I could not find it! Iíve been here about 3 times before, once sleeping over, and somehow remember that the town starts right west of the garage, not realizing that the garage is actually in Kazungula. So I have taken the road west wondering where the heck did the Kasane go. After few km when I believed I must have somehow missed it Iíve turned back and retraced to the garage to get confirmation that Kasane is actually in the direction I came from. So this time I pushed further knowing that at worst case scenario they will stop me where the road enters Chobe and eventually found Kasane few km further.
Normally I would stay at the backpackers lodge at the beginning of Kasane. But it was Christmas and my friends from Botswana always waxed lyrical about Chobe Safari Lodge so thatís where I went to splash a bit (quite a bit). Itís one of those upmarket establishments so when I arrived sweaty and muddy from the shindig with Kalahari the guards and squeamishly clean guests at the reception didnít know what to make of myself, but I couldnít care less. I never book anything, Iím wired that way plus I wouldnít know where to book - according to the plan I was supposed to be in Marienfluss at this point, and it did not occur to me that the lodge may be full on Christmas. Well I stank there long enough until they eventually found one room available for one night and then another for the next - so I would have to move. I couldnít be bothered to look for something else and took it.
Map for the day:
Video from the day (and the following):
|07-02-2014, 07:12 AM||#10|
Gnarly Poolside Adv.
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Darnestown, MD
Great trip report and pictures!
This is a trip I hope to do in the future, but for now I can enjoy your ride report.
|07-02-2014, 12:58 PM||#11|
Joined: Jul 2011
Location: South Africa
How ironic is it that we read the reports on an international forum about rides in our backyard. I did KUBU island and Chobe in the fourwheeldrive and is on my bucketlist for the bike. Baie mooi pics en report.. Who is the artist in the first video. Mooi so boeta.l
|07-02-2014, 03:59 PM||#13|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
|07-03-2014, 10:33 PM||#14|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Next day, December 26th, was the rest day and I woke up in my luxury suite at about 7am to the sound of wound up two stroke. Obviously upmarket lodges like this one care greatly about the immaculate look even if it takes waking the whole west wing of high-paying customers early to get the grass manicured just so.
The plan for the day was straightforward: move to a new room, figure out where to from Kasane, and go for the afternoon Chobe river cruise Iíve arranged the day before.
Regarding the route from Kasane, Iíve already decided to do Zimbabwe. It would take me 2 long days to get to Kaokoland, most of it on the boring straight roads across north of Namibia and then another 3 long days of boring straight riding south-east to get back to Joburg. Iíve done Kaokoland year before so I did not feel a need for the push. The Zim route provided natural approach home, while promising new opportunities for exploration - except for Vic Falls I have not been in Zim yet.
The next consideration route was rear tyre. Iíve started from Joburg with new E09 Dakar, but at this stage about two thirds of the thread was gone. The wear on these Ďadventureí knobblies slows down significantly as they get used up, but I still felt that it may be a stretch to try making it all the way back to Joburg. I did not expect the rear tyre to make the whole length of the originally planned route including Kaokoland and Richtersveld. So Iíve arranged with Duneworx Yamaha in Swakopmund to ship a new tyre to a place in Namibia, which I will let them know about 2 days before I reach the place (I knew that my plans can change on a whim). Before leaving Maun I shot them an email with instruction to ship the tyre to Katima Mulilo at the eastern end of Caprivi strip about 70 km west of Kasane for pick-up on 27th of Dec. But once in Kasane Iíve found a message that the shipping companies are closed for holidays and no tyre will be heading my way. So much for forward planning - at least I do not have to waste one day getting to Katima and back.
Clinton mentioned that I should be able to get new tyre in Harare or even Bulawayo, but I did not hold my breath as getting new tyre between Christmas and New Year would be proper challenge even in Joburg. So the only reasonable option left was trying to nurse the current one back home - the crappy running engine keeping my speed in check should help with that.
There were just two issues with the Zim route. One, I did not have Zim visa which I officially need - but I winged it once before going to Vic Falls so this was not a major concern. Two, I had no clue where to go - Clinton recommended to follow lake Kariba along its southern shore and then do Eastern Highlands but that was the extent of my intelligence. I did not have any map, only T4A on the GPS - not an issue if the objective would be just to get back to Joburg, but obviously I wanted to explore what Zim has to offer.
No problem, I thought, and went to the souvenir shop to get the map. They had wide variety of gear for discerning outdoor enthusiast, including the specialised maps of Moremi birds, Chobe mammals and such. But no, no map of Zimbabwe about 20 km east. So I went to town and checked few bookstores and Spar, but no luck. I have noticed this intriguing Zim void in Bots before - when I talked to number of people living along the Zim border, including white Zim expats (like the owners of the lodge in Panda), none of whom could even confirm what is the current official currency in Zimbabwe. Well, I will have to wing this one as well and try to get map in Vic Falls.
Iíve spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon following rigorous hydration program in the bar and pool, feeling wonderfully out of place. I do not have a family so live mostly off the schedule of modern society. I avoid morning/afternoon rush hours as I do not have to take kids to/from school and normally take vacation away from the school holidays. Being in an upmarket lodge in the middle of Christmas surrounded by families with screaming kids was something I barely remembered from years long past - almost new experience. Admittedly normally unbearable after an hour or so, but I already found my peace in the cutlines and watched all the hustle and bustle with detached amusement. There were three evenly distributed groups of guests. Western tourists in designer safari clothes acting cool even to their own kin (except for few half drunk eastern european types awkwardly trying to control their racist predispositions) following their prepaid experience schedules with professional guides, South African families camping with their 4x4s and trailers taking few days off the bush, and to my surprise lots of Botswanian families with kids for whom the main attraction was the lodge itself - they gladly left this roughing it in the bush business to the whiteys.
When the time has come, I have boarded the two story boat with another 40 - 50 people for the Chobe river cruise. This is one of those mass touristy things that us gnarly adventurers normally snub snobbishly (well I do). But my admittedly much more middle of the road friends always bloated about it and I had nothing else to do anyway, so I just went for it. And I have to admit I liked it a lot. The boat provides very different experience from typical 4x4 as it floats smoothly and silently right past the animals on the banks and in the water. The animals seemed to be completely unperturbed by the huge boat floating by. Here some pics:
Japanese dude ready to brave Botswanian summer:
After the cruise I had proper buffet dinner and spent the rest of the evening in the bar.
|07-04-2014, 09:56 AM||#15|
Joined: Jul 2007
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Days 9 - 10
I woke up in the morning shivering with fever and my plans to get moving got shelved. Iíve stayed in the bed till lunchtime waiting for an improvement but it wasnít to be. As always in Africa, I assumed malaria. Iíve had it once in Isla de Mozambique and then again in South Luangwa in Zambia and it made for one of those memorable experiences, when after a high dose of Delagil Iíve spent paranoid night in the tent in Flat Dog campsite crouching with attack knife in my hand waiting for the lions Iíve heard purring outside to come for me. And the next day, tired from my night vigil, I decided at about 11:00 to take the shortcut from Flat Dog to Petauke on my fully loaded GSA1150 - how hard can it be if it is even on the Michelin map of Southern Africa? Turns out very - 7 hours and 120 km of hardened cotton soil double track, intersped with elephants and leopards dashing 2 meters in front of me in the elephant grass.
In the afternoon I finally decided to go see a doctor, to check if I need to take malaria pills - I had some on me but wasnít taking any as prophylaxis. There was a quite few people waiting in the public hospital - I could not be bothered to wait so went to check the private doctors in town. Both of them were closed for holidays and out of country so I went for an alternative. I have asked petrol attendant, lady in pharmacy and receptionist if there is malaria in Kasane. The answer was always no. Thus establishing conclusively that I did not have malaria I have retreated back to my room. I have checked the aircon in the room - one of those power generator sounding 50ís unit near the ceiling of the room without remote, and indeed it was running on the full heat. So I reset it and retreated to a book in the bed to recoup for the remainder of the day and the following one.
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