Friday, September 18, 2009

Planet Baobob

This morning I rode for a bit, but then when the truck passed, I got on. The rash on the inside of my legs is getting larger, and every pedal is agony. We passed three giraffes on the truck, and then where we were meant to have lunch we saw a poached elephant. It’s head was cut off – people buy the skulls for decoration. In Sudan you couldn’t smell the trains of dead camels on the roadside as the desert dessicated them, but here in Botswana the tropical heat encourages life in all odours, and it smelled for kilometers. After lunch I started riding again. It hurt, but the wind was not too bad, and the scenery was something else. As I rode I brushed my hand through the pink, bushy-topped grass. Ahead of me a car was stopped
by an elephant. I kept my distance, but zoomed in with my camera. I dodged the fuzzy caterpillars, lizards and millipedes that covered the road, knowing that the first vehicle through would take them out by the thousands.
I passed the Foot and Mouth checkpoint. We ran our tires through a disinfectant, wiped our shoes off on the chemical mat, and passed through. The truck had to hide the meat on it, as any meat gets confiscated at the checkpoint. In Nata I found the fellows who had done two days in one. They were relaxing by the pool with a beer. We stayed there, swimming and drinking, until dinner time at the camp.
The following morning was meant to be 130km, but I only did 100. Not because I jumped on the truck, but because we stopped at this crazy little place called Planet Baobob. For those who don’t know, Baobobs are typical African trees, and they are also some of the largest in the world. This particular hotel had one in the back about the size of a large mansion.
I got up in the morning and off to an early start with Erin. We did bike yoga on the way – put your ankle on the cross-bar of your bike and push your knee down to open your hips. The arms stretches are easy, though in the freezing cold morning air they burn. Erin and I keep a great pace together. Plus we chat the whole way, so it makes the ride a lot more interesting. When the dinner truck passed she got
on, as she had her duties to attend to, but we got a fair distance before it caught up with us. Afterwards I was passed by tons of bikes. My moral is low. I feel
like everyone is getting stronger and I’m weakening. My mood was switched around by lunch, where instead of the usual – cucumber/tomato/cheese, tuna or egg salad (they go on rotation) – they had prepared omelette sandwiches for us.
We rode the next 10-20km to Planet Baobob, a hotel marked by a 30 foot sculptural termite mound with a planet on top, covered in baobobs. Across the road is a gigantic ardvark. A few of the riders actually missed this.
We stopped for a quick break. The place was styled in 60’s African d├ęcor. Archival posters, covers from a famousAfrican magazine, an old Jetson-style screenprint advertizing L’afrique Noire, beautiful carved masks being used as lampshades along the building. We sat in circular cow-hide upholstered basket chairs drinking tea and eating chocolate cake. We looked on the pool with envy and went out to discover the 4000-year-old baobob tree (they grow a meter in diameter for every year). There were hammocks. John and I took them over, and were shortly joined by Simon. That’s where our plan started. If the others could do a double header, surely we could add 30km to our trip. It would mean riding just over 210 tomorrow, but we’re riding into a rest day. Surely we can do that. Both of us had ridden those distances before, and with a tailwind like today? We could probably get it done in 6hours. Surely we could.
Back in the restaurant we were greeted by the sweep. Alex, the nurse, thought it was a great idea. Paul and Eric discouraged it. They kept harping on how there would be no rest stop for us the next day. Or lunch. Or anything. In the end they had no real say. We stayed. The room was a funky little mud hut with two twin beds on either side. There were even towels! There was a little dining table in between
with a water jug and glasses, and on the back wall there was the smooth, rounded mud-shelving, made at the same time as they made the walls of the hut, with tin-plates hand-painted with red flowers. The cabin was just like the ones we had seen with the witch-doctor, though the shower and toilet were en-suite. We swam in our bike shorts, and sat up with some overlanders, drinking cheap wine by the campfire. We snoozed under the baobob, and just had an amazing day away from the crew.
The next morning we started the long trek to Maun. It was meant to be 210km, but by the time we finished it was well beyond that. We got up, had a massive, English-style breakfast, and went to the store 10km away from our hotel. Their only stock consisted of white bread, animal crackers, pop and water. We bought a loaf, a bag of cookies, 12 litres of water and two gingerales. The ride was excruciating. We had a headwind the whole day. There was nothing to see. Field after endless field. Not a single animal.
I was unhappy. John and I started singing tunes from the 90s. Only the baddest of the worst. That made our journey that much easier. My sugar level had fully depleted by the time we got to town. On the road we realized that we had no idea where camp was. We got into the city and saw a white man on a bike. We thought he was one of ours, but were wrong. He had seen our crew up by the Croc Farm Lodge. We
went to all of the lodges in that area. Then I emailed Toronto while John called all of the other lodges in town. He got the right one, we ordered a cab, and within half an hour we were sitting poolside, eating buffet, and shortly thereafter sleeping in our tents. Everyone else stayed up and partied, but I just wanted to be unconscious.

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