What to do with two days off? This was our second and last rest day. Since there was no possibility of rafting, I signed up for kayaking. Peter joined me in that, and it was our guide, two regular tourists and us. I felt bad for the guide. The others on the tour were an overweight Frenchman and his girlfriend who was, let’s just say “very delicate”. For every three of our paddles they took ten. The guide was having a rough go of keeping us together.
We rode past hippos, keeping quiet so that they wouldn’t charge us. Occasionally we slapped the paddle in the water to alert them to our presence. We didn’t want one to accidentally approach us. Birds flew overhead, and we drifted down the Zambezi, between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It turned out the others were only there for the half-day, and so after lunch we were on our own. We rode on and realized that they time the whole trip for relaxed tourists, and so after a few times of our guide catching up to us, getting us to slow down, we chilled out and barely paddled the rest of the way. The closer we got to the falls, the faster the river anyhow. We drifted past elephants grazing. The guide told us of how animals sometimes get caught in the current and get pulled over the falls. He and many others once dragged out a hippo and feasted on it afterwards. We went past the tourist area and he told us that last week, because of the height of the river (it was at the highest point on record in ages), one of the big paddle wheelers came off its moorage (I didn’t quite understand how), and then started drifting down the river. Someone saw it and they jumped in a motorboat and chased it down the river, managing to get it tied onto their boat. Unfortunately the rope snapped and the boat went over the falls.
Our guide also told us stories of Gnami-Gnami, the river god. In the ‘50’s they built a dam, but Gnami-gnami got angry because his wife was on the other side, and so he destroyed the dam to be with her. When they rebuilt the dam years later it lasted, because Gnami-Gnami had rejoined his wife on the other side.
The next morning was very exciting! The start of our penultimate stage. BOTSWANA!
It was an easy day. Only 80km, a few hills, some headwinds, but such a short day that it was barely noticeable. We had to cross on a ferry, and the line-up of trucks was unbelievable. Trucks have to wait for up to a week to get across the border. Fortunately overlanders get priority (they pay dearly for the privilege), and so our trucks flitted past all of the frustrated truckers, the ones who hadn’t gone off to visit their local prostitutes.
As you cross the border you can pick up handfuls of free condoms for customs. It is estimated that around 50% of children in Botswana are born with AIDS. It’s also one of the richest countries and most stable countries in Africa, thanks to their post-colonial discovery of diamonds. Its dollar is doing better than the South African Rand. We were shocked to see streetlights.
Most of us signed up for an evening sea-fari, where we glided down the river watching hippos, kudus, oryxes and many other antelope-like creatures, and then we sat back and watched an elephant bathing and eating, just meters in front of us. The sunset was beautiful, and we went to sleep listening to the sound of elephants, hippos and hyenas. Some brave souls in our group were headed off the next day to do a double-header. 310km! They’re nuts.
The human ones in our group woke up the next morning to a simple 160km ride. It was incredibly beautiful, but they had lied about the tailwinds. I rode the first half alone. A troupe of baboons crossed the road in front of me. No matter how many times this happens, I’ve never gotten jaded to it. It’s so beautiful to see them nudging along their young, slightly resembling school patrollers. To my right I heard a branch snap. An elephant was eating breakfast. That put me on alert for the rest of the day, but until lunch the only animals I saw were vultures. Paul caught up to me at one point. I had to laugh because the night before he had lectured us all on the dangers of elephants. “Do not approach them, do not take any pictures if you happen upon them at the roadside.” Those were his words last night, but this morning he came up to me telling me that he had had a pretty huge adventure. He passed by three elephants, right on the side of the road. He, of course, pulled out his camera, and the minute he got the elephants in the frame, the bull’s ears started to rustle. He knew to get out of there, but it was to late, the elephant, and then mama and kid started to charge him. He was scared, but at the same time was exhilarated by how cool it was, and started trying to take picks over his shoulder. When he almost lost control, he realized what a stupid mistake he was making, put the camera in his pocket, and jetted.
I rode through the tall grasses, looked at the distant acacia trees which converged miles ahead into a forest, and then diverged once again into tall grass fields. When in the grass fields I thought about what great lion territory this was, and when in the acacia trees I thought of what great leopard terrain it was. Millipedes and beetles covered the road, and I would see the occasional flattened snake, though nowhere near the amount I saw in Zambia.
I crossed into fields of millet, ripe red millet on the right, fresh green millet on the left, making everything look like an impressionist painting.
After lunch I joined up with John. We chatted for ages, until we heard a crack on our left. It was a giraffe that we startled. It ran with us for quite a while, feet first and then the waving rebound of its neck.
We stopped for a “coke stop” which have now, thankfully, turned into juice stops. Not the wonderful Ethiopian style juice, but juice in cans. Since we have returned to “civilization” coke comes in far-too-huge bottles (NAmerican size), out of plastic, not glass, and juice is available in cans, not fresh squeezed. I visited with Ernest, and he told me about his third wife, who’s ashes he scattered at Victoria Falls. When he and his ex-girlfriend broke up, they threw a singles dinner. It was a five-course meal, and everyone was set up in couples to make one of the courses together. After a few platonic dates with the woman he was set up with, he realized he was in love with her. “In my relationship with her I could have spent an hour, an afternoon, a month or a year with her and it would never be too much.”
After Zambia there seem to be a lot of complaints about it being too boring here, but I find it to be so beautiful.