Friday, 23 April 2010

BOTSWANA

Botswana is flat.... It is the complete opposite of Ethiopia. It is flat and empty, no people. The road are straight and just disappear in the far distance. The country is a giant game park crossed by a few roads and you can ride your bicycle for hours without meeting anybody on the road, a complete novelty to us after crossing heavily populated regions of Africa. There are plenty of wild animals here if you judge by the amount of elephant droppings on the road. Some riders were lucky and saw elephants crossing the road in front of them. We had one yesterday trumpeting at us, probably to warn others that humans were near by, but we could not see him in the thick bush that bordered the road.

Getting in Botswana was good fun as we used the famous Kazungula ferry to cross the Zambezi river. The Kazungula ferry is nothing more than a metal barge that can transport one truck at a time across the Zambezi. It takes about 10 minutes, and is good fun given the very basic condition of the barge making its way slowly across these crocodile infested waters... It is also a famous since it is the only place in the world where 4 countries meet. In the middle of the river, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe all come together.

Once you enter Botswana, you start with cleaning your shoes and tires, by dipping them into a big pool of dirty water that contains some chemicals strong enough to kill the germs of the foot and mouth disease. Then, it is straight ahead for kilometers and kilometers. Pretty boring, and worst, it is even windy... The distances we are covering here are impressive, even in TDA terms. On most days in Botswana we are riding between 160 and 200 km. I am now writing this posting from Main and we have already covered 700 km in 5 days.

So, this means that we are back in peloton riding which I am enjoying, I have to say. By now, we are a lot more experienced in group riding and I am amazed at how efficient peloton riding is. Single riders have no chance against a well organised peloton. It is also the best defence against the wind. We take turns of 5 km each in front and by doing so, we have been able to reach average speeds well above 30 km per hour even in head winds. Not bad. This efficiency has meant that we have had to find ways to kill time as we have been making it to camp early. So yesterday for example, we decided to have a stop at 103 km (out of 185) and spent 3 hours at a beautiful lodge where we stuffed ourselves with delicious cheese burgers and relaxed in their magnificent swimming pool.

That is one thing Botswana is not short off, lodges... They specialize in high end lodges with the most exclusive levels of service. So, we were very glad that Planet Baobab let day visitors to enjoy their magnificent infrastructures. After spending 3 hours in this small paradise, we decided to hit the road again and cover the last 82 km. Unfortunately, we had a remake of our day 2 experience. (the day I almost lost my EFI due to a long stop for a comfortable lunch at a Red Sea resort and had to face a sand storm).

While Jos, Andre and myself were having our cheese burgers by the pool, the weather had turned nasty and the strong tail wind we had enjoyed during the morning had now turned into a headwind with a worrying thick black line growing on the horizon. Within an hour and a half we hit this black line.... It was like entering the gates of hell. In a typical African thunderstorm style, we hit a curtain of rain... It was pouring so heavily that it hurt like it was hailing. Lightening started to crack over our heads and the wind was so strong that we were almost thrown off our bicycles. The temperature had dropped by at least 20 degrees and it was so dark, it felt like night had taken over.

You could not see anything and there was nowhere to hide. We were in the middle of an open endless field with short bush and grass. Lightening was now banging right over our heads ans it felt like our last moments had arrived...Suddenly on the left hand side of the road, a small miracle.... One of the TDA vehicle was there! I had forgotten that last night at the rider meeting they had mentioned that due to the very long distance of the stage, they would have one vehicle parked at kilometer 150 for refreshments. We jumped inside and once we realised we were safe, we could not stop laughing at this experience. It was raining so hard that even the Land Cruiser of the TDA was leaking water from every corner. In less than 15 minutes, the rain stopped and as if nothing had happened the sun reappeared. We got back on our bicycles and pushed even harder now that we had lost a good 15 minutes. By the time we made it to camp, we were dry, except for our cycling shoes. Wao, what a storm and we had ridden straight into it.

Timing was actually perfect, we had ridden the 185 km at an average speed slightly above 30 km per hour, enjoyed a 3 hours break at a magnificent lodge, eaten cheese burgers and made it to camp before dark. The storm riding was gonna be yet another one of these moment that you never forget.

That evening at camp, we set a bigger than average locker 9 club meeting, inviting a few special guests of honor and enjoyed a 2,5 kg piece of Swiss cheese matured 36 months in cellar and specially delivered by Gabriel's brother who have joined us for this section of the tour...We make a point of inviting a different guest of honor almost each evening. In this way we get to know each rider in a different way than just on the bike. Tonight we invited Lanie. Lanie is amazing. She is the oldest woman rider, she is of Chinese origin, but lives in Canada. At the beginning of this tour, everybody smiled politely at her. She was the only rider who did not use cleats on her shoes and seemed very unprepared and unfit. But Lanie proved to be a tough cookie as they say in the US. She just got stronger and stronger. She is now not only finishing each and every stage but cycles at such a consistent pace that if you stop too long for a coke, Lanie already passes you. Impressed by her tenacity and very quiet approach to life, we decided that tonight Lanie was gonna be the guest of honor of the locker 9 brotherhood. She was delighted and probably touched by the gesture, I had never had a chance to speak with her for more than a minute, so it was nice to hear more about her.

The atmosphere was colonial, the air was hot and humid, and the South African red wine went down our throats like mother's milk... A beautiful red sky added a hint of African flavour to this magical experience. TDA is very much what you make out of it and we are making sure we get the maximum, we race on the day and we enjoy beautiful Swiss cheese and South African wine in the evening. We are gentlemen racers, probably like the early tour de France riders who would stop in a local bar for lunch, have a glass of wine and get back on their bikes.... What a great times these must have been... Well, since we are not racing seriously, we can afford to spend 3 hours at a road side lodge and drink wine each night... And, by the way, make no mistake, tomorrow morning at 6h00 we will be on the road pushing a good pace, sharing the work riding in an organised peloton and having fun racing.

The coming week is a tough one. This is the one when we do over 900 km in 5 days... Yes.... Each stage will be minimum 160 km and one is 207 km, the longest of the tour.Of course we are now very fit and it does not seem too difficult, but it is still a lot of hours on the saddle and much depends on the wind.207 km in a headwind can become a day of hell...
It is incredible how the past 3 months have trained us to long distance riding. I remember suffering of cramps and general fatigue after 90 km on day one. Yesterday at kilometer 160, I was pushing my relay turn at 35 km per hour feeling absolutely fine and not even breathing heavily... That is the difference, we might be tired, but we are so much fitter and flat Botswana is a good place to evaluate this progress.Before this tour, I would have never been able to push such speeds even on much shorter distances.

 
                                                           Hot dogs for lunch! Yeah!
                           
                                    In Botswana, we have to clean our shoe soles and our bike
                                    tires in these giant dips against the foot and mouth disease
                                        Another very basic bush camp in the middle of nowhere.
                                        Elephants were spotted just 100 meters from camp...
                                                           Sundown on the Chobe river
                            Late afternoon boat cruise on the Chobe river for the TDA participants
                        The Chobe river flows into the Zambezi, just a few kilometers downstream

                          
                                    TDA riders stepping off the Kasangula ferry into Botswana
                           The Kasangula ferry is the only way to cross the Zambezi river between
                           Botswana and Zambia. There is a huge queue of trucks especially since
                           Zimbabwe introduced very heavy prices for using its roads
                             The most simple form of transport on these crocodile infested waters...
                                            One of the TDA trucks joining us on the crossing
                                  Me during the 15 minutes long crossing at the point where the 4
                                  countries meet. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana

                                       The biggest note the world has ever seen, a 100 trillion
                                       Zimbabwean dollars... It is worth a few cents...
                                                                  A nice spot for lunch


                     Botswana is completely flat and the roads straight for hundreds of kilometers
                     with windy conditions. Peloton riding is essential
                                The famous "Locker 9 club meetings" are becoming highly popular,
                                especially at bush camps where there is nothing else to do. Here
                                we are sampling some 36 month old Swiss cheese brought by
                                Gabriel's brother who joined us for the current section. We might
                                be in the middle of nowhere, but we are able to lift our spirits with such delicacies...
                             We had 185 km to ride today and at kilometer 103, this opportunity
                             of jumping into the pool of this road side lodge could not be turned
                             down. Eventually 3 hours later, Jos, Andre and myself carried on and
                             did the last 82 km in a record braking time despite a huge thunderstorm
                             unleashing hell on us
                                 Planet Baobab is the name of this wonderful lodge where we also
                                 enjoyed plenty of cold drinks and delicious cheese burgers...
                                 This giant Antbear is a landmark here in Botswana along the road
                                 between Nata and Maun

3 comments:

Eric said...

Salut Gerald,

Tu tiens le bon bout maintenant.
Tu as dû être très heureux de revoir Jaana et réciproquement.
Merci encore pour tes réciots et photos. Je te souhaite bonne chance pour la suite.

Eric

Jack Humphreville said...

What will life be like after you finish the tour?

Anonymous said...

Gerald, do you realize that only today you have run 4 times the size of the country you live in ????? you will got claustrophobic when you return home !!! I'm Joan from Andorra