July 4, 2015 by Rob Gardiner
Hitting the road with the baritone groans of the Okavango’s elusive hippos still ringing in our ears, we left the rustic delights of Sepopa behind for the cosmopolitan charms of larger towns and, in particular, better stocked supermarkets. Our protein-starved muscles ached as we pushed north, into Namibia’s northeastern protrusion, the Caprivi Corridor. Squeezed between Botswana and Angola, this narrow strip of land is largely comprised of the Bwabwata National Park, which stretches for almost 200 kilometres.
Unfortunately, the first 13 kilometres of this protected expanse proved to be impassable on two wheels. A core wildlife area, densely packed with lions, elephants and other big game, this fenced-off section was deemed too dangerous for cyclists to enter. The border guards foretold our grisly demise if we dared try to cycle and we were ushered towards a passing pick-up truck, whose driver kindly agreed to drive us through.
After a kilogramme of fried Namibian ‘Boerewoks’ and night’s sleep had strengthened our malnourished legs, we swept onwards through the tree-sprinkled savannah of Bwabwata. A pair of elephants casually ambled into sight early on, but otherwise the wildlife remained largely at bay, hidden amongst the foliage. The only company came in the form of the headwind that has now plagued us for weeks, hanging around in spite of our increasing hostility. With the benefit of hindsight, we are now beginning to wish that we had decided to cycle from east to west, rather than the other way around.
Soon, we reached the end of the corridor and left Namibia behind for the final time, re-entering Botswana. Our route took us towards the Zambezi River, and Zambia – less than a day’s cycle away. However, first we had no choice but to cross through the northern tip of Chobe National Park. With zebras, baboons and setungas visible as we neared the entrance, it was hardly a surprise when we learned that cyclists were banned from Chobe. Home to an enormous elephant population, as well as lions, leopards and buffaloes, Chobe is not designed for those who are unable to seek shelter within the steely interior of their car.
Fortunately, it was only minutes before we were packed into the back of another 4×4, hurtling through the trees with our eyes searching for wildlife. We were not to be disappointed and, even though our hitchhike took us through only a fraction of the mighty Chobe, it was enough time to come within 15 metres of a herd of grazing elephants. Our friendly driver immediately hit the brakes, giving us a few minutes to watch the giant creatures as the lead elephant, a heavily pregnant female, ambled a little closer.
A few hours later, and a creaking ferry was carrying us across the Zambezi and into Zambia – our third country in less than 12 hours. But again our time here was brief, and by noon the following day we were cycling back over the Zambezi, crossing via a precariously placed steel bridge. This time we looked in awe to our right as the Victoria Falls appeared, thundering downwards and disappearing amidst a cloud of mist and spray.
Zimbabwe lay beyond, but we paused for some time to enjoy the majesty of the sight – one that has riveted slightly more illustrious and presumptuous travellers than ourselves. As the novelty wore off, we rolled slowly forwards, leaving the striking beauty of no man’s land behind and entering Mugabe’s friendly fiefdom to shouts of “You want a billion dollars?”