Thursday, 24 May 2007

THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS


Lying in my tent at 3 AM about a km away, I could hear the roar of the Victoria Falls. It reminded me of the sound of the ocean on a quiet evening. The 4 days from Bulawayo have been tough, but also enjoyable. I've found the Zimbabwean people to be very friendly, especially those in the small villages where I stop for refreshments. I've been through about 7 police road blocks, all of them friendly. When I pass local cyclists I wave and they ring the bell, which made me wonder whether bicycle bells are compulsory. Yesterday the police asked me why I didn't have a bell, and what I would do if I needed one. I told them that I could whistle, which of course I had to demonstrate (to their amusement). The forested countryside is beautiful, but I seem to have missed most of the wild animals which are supposed to be a danger when camping in the bush. One night a kudu strolled past my tent, and at the Shoestring Lodge the baboons were charging around the camp site this AM. I'm resting here in Vic Falls today, and will probably move across the Zambezi to Livingstone tomorrow. Distances since Bulawayo were: Memmezi Forest 112 k; Halfway House 116 k; Hwange 110 k; and Vic Falls 108 k.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

WILL THE SKY FALL?




In the village of Asterix, the chief feared only one thing - that the sky would fall on his head. As I cycled across the border into Zimbabwe I had the same feeling. Along the way I'd listened to the horror stories of how I'd be attacked around every corner, and how the corrupt police would confiscate my belongings, etc. Amazingly, I'd found the border police to be very friendly and helpful, as I would the following day (two road blocks, and directions from police in Bulawayo). I've generally found the Zim people to be very friendly. Arriving in Plumtree in the late afternoon without any accommodation or camping facilities, I expected to move on and sleep in the bush. Not so, thanks to Thando, Moosa, and Dutchy (not in picture), who provided me with a place to stay and a meal, etc. (free of charge). I also met Major and Navigator, who were keen to show me around their city - Bulawayo. That's one of the advantages of travelling by bicycle, I get to interact with the people. If you're flying through the countryside in your glittering chariot, then you can hardly expect the locals to randomly hop into the road and be kind to you. I even had the opportunity to help someone - a stranded motorist. The fuel line on his car was blocked, and I cleared it with the bicycle pump. After changing some Botswana Pula for Zim $, I wondered whether I should hire someone to ride shotgun on the back of my bike. Suddenly I was a millionaire, with a couple of million $ in my grubby paws. Unfortunately things here tend to cost tens of thousands, but it still works out fairly cheap (bread is less than R2, and especially for the West Coast AC guys, a beer costs around R2). It seems that every third day now is a rest day for me, so I'll camp another night at the Backpackers here in Bulawayo. Distances since Francistown were: Plumtree 99 k; Bulawayo 105 k.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT



I've heard of the road reserve being referred to as the "long farm" (re hunting or grazing) - but it is rather short from side to side. I suppose I can refer to it as the "long campsite", which is were I camped a short while ago (in the Foley area). I did the long haul there so that I could do the shorter haul to Francistown the following day (and the shortest haul was around the town looking for places). One of those places was the bank, where I stood in a long que for a long time (perhaps they were short-staffed, or short on cash). Today I have a rest day in the very nice Marang Hotel camp site, which is the sort of place I've long looked forward to (although my pleasure will be cut short tomorrow again). Oh yes, I've added up the long k's, and it appears I'm only about 5 k's short of 3000. It shows by the suntan (picture), from wearing the long cycling shorts. So, to cut a long story short, distances since Gaborone have been: Dibete 116 k; Mahalapye 96 k; Palapye 74 k; Foley 111 k; and Francistown 76 k.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

BOTSWANA BUSH-BIKING




Awakening from a pleasant dream the other night, it took a while for me to orientate myself. Then I realised that I was in a tiny Botwana village, camping in someone's dusty backyard somewhere between the chicken run and the vegge patch (and I'm grateful to those people, also for giving me of their scarce water). The following day I had a head-on battle with a dust storm to reach Mahalapye, where I camped next to a "lodge". The big shots of Botswana Railways were having a dinner party at the lodge, and I thank them for providing me with a large plate of food (pap, meat, and salad), as well as a drink. Enquiring about camping at one lodge, I asked the receptionist if they had a spot where I could put my tent. She went off to find out from the manager, and when she returned she said I could just leave my tent in the reception office! Arriving in Palapye yesterday I was surprised to even see a sign indicating a camp site. I followed the sign expecting at best a fenced-off patch of baked red earth, perhaps sprouting some thorn trees. Great was my surprise when I arrived at Itumela Camp and found it to be a veritable oasis, also catering for the likes of overland adventure groups (I even watched the rugby on a big screen). So, I've decided to take a rest day here in Palapye today, doing my washing and the internet (courtesy of the management - in their home).

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

BUSHVELD BASHING




Actually, this section has been quite a smooth ride, but that doesn't rhyme with "bushveld". I stayed at Lichtenburg waiting for my drivers licence to arrive on Monday am (and it was there!). The cruise to Zeerust was comfortable, watching the mielies turn to bush and cattle country. Appropriately the Pub & Grill next to the camp site in Zeerust was called "The Bull & Bush". I've enjoyed reading the work of Herman Charles Bosman (which plays off the that region). His narrator (Oom Schalk Lourens) was often drinking coffee in the P.O. at the start of a story, but as I was having breakfast at the Wimpy I realized that those days have gone. The Botswana policeman at the Shilpadhek border post informed me that there was nothing of interest at Lobatse (the next town inside Botswana). I found out he was right, and went on to a sprawling village called Otse, where there was even less of interest. They advertise a non-existent camp site, so after some time I found the Baratani Lodge which also didn't cater for tents. The staff took pity on me and decided that I could camp on the lawn for half the price of a room. However, after some lengthy deliberation they gave me a room at the same price as camping (which they didn't have). This morning I hit the road to Gaborone quite early, so that I could do some business and find a camp site. The business has been done, and I hear there is a "Bull & Bush" here as well (with a camp site attached). Distances since Lichtenburg are: Zeerust 88 k; Otse 87k; and Gaborone 65 k (most of it in the town looking for places).

Thursday, 3 May 2007

THE "BLOEM TO BLOEM" JETSTREAM




Leaving Bloemfontein I was fortunate to have a tail wind, and after 2 days of rest old Saartjie (my bike) was keen to run with the breeze. In fact Saartjie was so keen that 2 days later I was sitting on the banks of the Vaal River just downstream of the Bloemhof Dam. In the process I passed 2000 k's since leaving CT. But this all has nothing to do with the story I want to tell. My story has to do with the "filling" in the "2-Bloem sandwich". Arriving at Bultfontein at 14h30 on the Sunday of a "long" weekend isn't easy. For a while I was convinced that there were only 2 inhabitants of the town, and both of them were petrol attendants. I started to slowly cruise the streets, and after about 20 minutes (5th lap) I noticed people on the lawn of a house. It turned out to be the co-owner of the Bultfontein Hotel, who invited me into his home for a meal. He then gave me a room and breakfast in the Hotel (free of charge). He is in the process of upgrading the hotel, and if you are in the area please contact Mr Porro Botha at 0738409296 vrsptyltd@iafrica.com (Thanks Porro - see picture).

TIGHTENING THE MIELIE BELT




For the past few days I've been travelling through SA's "Maize Belt" (there's even a railway siding called "Mieliebelt"). For long distances at a time all one can see is maize fields connected by huge grain elevators every 20 k's or so. Another belt I've been able to tighten is my own. For months before I left CT people have been saying I'm wise to fatten up before embarking on a mission of this nature. To my own embarrassment it seems I may have overdone the preparations (see early photo's). Fortunately, I'm almost able to see my feet again! A further belt which I'll have to tighten is the one which controls the finances. I've been having a royal time so far, but at this rate I may not even reach Nietverdiend (which would be rather appropriate). Anyway, I'm sitting in Lichtenburg writing all this nonsense, which is more than most people can say (unless you live in Lichtenburg, of course). I'll only be leaving here on Monday, as I have to pick up an article at this post office (which means 3 days of rest). Distances travelled since Bloemfontein are: Bultfontein 104 k; Bloemhof 105 k; Wolmaransstad 72 k; Ottosdal 47 k; and Lichtenburg 89k.