September 11, 2010 GMT
The Okavango Delta

Another country, another change. After the verdant and colourful vegetation of Zimbabwe, Botswana is a bit bare by comparison.

Dry flat savannah traversed by straight flat roads, all fairly unremarkable. But cattle and goats still roam the highways.
No balancing boulders or whalebacks - they almost stop dead at the border.

The formalities for Botswana were straightforward, no visa required, but road tax, insurance, and 'road safety levy' to pay for. About twelve pounds in all.
The cashier explained what I needed then showed me where the bank was to obtain some local Pula currency. He seemed a jovial character.
When I returned he said, "I was just discussing your accent with the man behind you. You Europeans always have very different accents to African people. Where is your accent from?"
I told him.
"Ah, well, tell me if this is right. Another visitor told me they speak a different language in Ireland. Is that so?"
"Gaelic," I said. "A lot of people speak it and it's still taught in schools."
"Well that's interesting. And then there's Scotland and Wales as well. But they speak English don't they?"
"In Wales some people speak the Welsh language which is also taught in schools, and in the west of Scotland they speak Gaelic."
"Are those languages like English?"
"No, completely different and unintelligible to us English!"
"That's complicated. But it's all one country isn't it, United Kingdom? So who keeps it all together?"
Well, that got me thinking. But inspiration arrived just in time.
"The Queen, of course!"
The cashier's eyes lit up with a big smile.
"Well, thank you very much. I think I understand you English a little better now!"
At that I entered on to the Botswanan roads equipped with my road safety token and road tax voucher.

This is the scene between Nata and Gweta (after an overnight in Francistown), dry grass and a few trees to the distant horizon.


Then the first small salt pan, before the huge Sowa and Ntwetwe Pans over to the south of the road.

And a magnificent baobab at one of just a few roadside picnic places.


It even looked as though its legs were crossed sitting on the ground.

(At least it did in real life, if not in this photo)

That was the last item of any interest. The road from Gweta on to Maun (rhymes with 'town') takes the prize as the most boring road of the journey so far. Even the desert roads in the Sahara had atmosphere and mystery, but this road is 140 miles of desolate boredom. Mostly dead straight, dead flat, next to no other traffic, and absolutely no people.
And hot. Summer is here now.

The boredom moved me to stop to take a picture of the only things to catch the eye.
A couple of donkeys and a rubbish bin. Nothing else of note.



After a while I came to think that even a few telephone wires would add a bit of interest. But they too had stopped dead at the border, having stretched all the way across Zimbabwe from Mozambique, providing a little reassuring company.
Then the boredom must have got serious, because suddenly I realised I had some different company that just might provide a little mental entertainment.


Not telephone wires, but power lines, a completely different kettle of fish. You plug your kettle into these, not your phone.
I found myself trying to judge what voltage they were carrying. The insulators were about six inches high with lots of thin ribs, so maybe quite modern. I couldn't find any other feature that might give a clue.

But then, joy of joys! A couple of poles had bright yellow labels on them proclaiming "33kV".
Well, that removed all the guess work. Maybe working out the power being carried by these wires would add something to the passage of time and ease the tedium on this endless road. (Or add to it maybe).
The conductors looked about six or eight millimetres diameter, a ladder and a micrometer would be handy - or even a clippon ammeter on a long pole!
No, this is 3-phase delta configuration, that wouldn't help.
In Bulawayo an electrical contractor's depot had a prominent position in town with its name in big letters: "Star Delta Contractors." Ah, that's what I needed, to remember the star-delta conversion formulas from college! Errrr, forty five years ago.
And power-factor corrections!
Nope, don't remember those either.
So I'll have to have a guess at the power being carried. At 33,000 volts I'd assume these lines are quite long, but don't know how long, except its another eighty miles to Maun....... and there are twelve spans between each joint......
No, I'm not interested in that either - but how else do you keep your mind active in retirement??

.......... you get the idea (I hope) about how boring this road was.........!!

And just in time, Maun appeared. Suddenly, like most African towns do in this part of the continent. A couple of tarmac side roads, traffic lights, followed by stacks of chrome-plated banks and supermarkets crowding the roads, Wimpy's hamburgers, shiny Shell and BP filling stations.
And colourful vegetation again. Almost, but not quite, tropical.

This is the south-east corner of the Okavango Delta and Maun is filled to bursting with safari operators in shiny chrome offices. But it seems not yet high season, so things are fairly quiet.

I set off up the road, followed by the powdery track, that stretches along the eastern side of the delta. The delta itself is all National Park with a hefty entrance fee. And the roads away from this track looked far too sandy for HM The Bike and I. Especially as one is on one's own.
So here are some photos from the track.

To the east of the delta is a massive salt-pan area. This is one tiny corner of one of the pans.

Huge signboard with list of environmental rules.





Plenty of parking on the Okavango Delta.


One of hundreds of posh water-front lodges on the Delta, concealed from view.

24 Hours after Air-Filter Washing Day.

Further into the Delta. Finding that they've built bends into the road, I wasn't sure about continuing.

A Delta river bed, dry at the moment, crosses the track. They say the Delta has received more water from the feeder rivers this last couple of years than for many years before.

"Another fine mess you got my airfilter into."

Delta trees in early summer.



The Delta village of Phologelo.


Okavango United football stadium out-of-season.

Between Francistown and Maun I stopped a couple of days in Gweta where I met a couple of French riders on KTMs, on a round-the-world trip. Travelling about three times as fast as me. They need to be in Buenos Aires before Christmas so aren't hanging about. They're doing some minor servicing so the conversation wanders in that direction. I learn that these bikes have a paper airfilter, which I think is necessary on this continent, but have an oil-impregnated foam filter as well, in front of it.
So, they told me, the foam filter can be washed in the normal way and makes the paper filter last a long time. The whole lot keeping a whole lot more dirt out of the engine than my little foam device.
That conversation, added to the never-ending need to 'do laundry' must have awakened a few slumbering brain cells, as I had the brilliant idea to wash the dirty filters in washing powder instead of petrol. And it seemed to work, and made the whole job a lot easier.

It certainly did work in one aspect. That is, I actually washed both of them at last as I no longer had to look around for empty plastic bottles and some way of disposing of the petrol. But just looking at those filters, and their open structure, tells me they're no good for this environment. Not when you've reached seventeen thousand miles with still a few thousand to go to the final goal. (Meaning another oil change just completed in Maun).

Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:13 PM GMT
September 13, 2010 GMT
Ghanzi, Edge Of the Kalahari

After a few days in Maun it was off to Ghanzi. A little more colour in the scenery with the trees, but really, another long boring straight stretch. We crossed the Ngwanalekau Hills (why should I be the only one trying to pronounce these names?) and Tsau Hills, but as far as I could see, all was as flat as a pancake.

Which was not surprising as we were back in salt-pan country, one of them being called, according to my whimsical map, Peter Pan, just inside the Kalahari Game Reserve.

On uninteresting stretches of road the GPS can sometimes be a bit of a diversion to play with, but I'd long since run out of things to do with it.
But, I thought, I'd set it to point at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the continent and my final destination (I hope).

Ahh! We've broken one thousand! Only nine hundred and ninety five miles to go, as the crow flies.
And even better, the bearing is 199 degrees and our track right now is 192 degrees, so only seven degrees off. And would you believe it? Ahead is a slight, imperceptible bend to the right...... and now our track is 199 degrees, dead on course!!
What's our Estimated Time of Arrival? (One of the most useful features of GPS devices in my opinion).
It says 9:30am. But sadly, doesn't say which day, or even the month.
Some mental arithmetic makes 995 miles about twenty hours of continuous riding, so that's 9:30am tomorrow!!
Wow, only one day to Cape Town, if the road continues dead straight at 199 degrees and I don't stop for anything!

But I did stop, for this photo, about halfway to Ghanzi across this north-west corner of The Kalahari:

"Steer 199 degrees, Mr. Helmsman, and be careful of Peter Pan. It's a few miles off our port bow."

"Aye aye, Cap'n."

So I won't be in Cape Town tomorrow I'm afraid.......
But - it all helps to keep the mind active in retirement.
(I don't suppose you'd say the same about reading this stuff......)

Tomorrow is one year since departure, I'll probably still be in Ghanzi, maybe crossing a bit more of The Kalahari and into Namibia on the 15th.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:16 PM GMT
September 16, 2010 GMT
The Trans-Kalahari Highway

I'm reviewing the situation.
It'll be decision time again in Windhoek (Namibia), on which route to take thereafter.

Firstly, I stayed a few days longer in Ghanzi (Botswana). It's a cultural centre of the San bushman tribes. I read a little about their situation in the Ghanzi public library.
Travelling along the roads east to west in this part of Central Botswana it's noticeable that there are numerous large billboard signs on the outskirts of towns, urging people to "Know when to say No!" With an additional slogan about responsible drinking, in English and the Botswanan language.
On arrival in Ghanzi I saw a large hotel sign above a bar area inside a parking compound. So I rode in, to find quite a lot of people drinking merrily, outside in the compound and in the bar. I couldn't find any hotel reception and the customers were keen to help me, but it took a while for them to string the words together to explain that the sign for the hotel above the bar was only an advert, the actual hotel was two buildings further along. So I don't know if there's an alcohol problem around here or not, as I never saw any other indications that there might be.

In the library I learned that the San people don't actually refer to themselves by that name, it's a label that's come to be used by western publications. Up-market guide books and holiday brochures for instance, refer to the San people in advertising their luxury safari package holidays in Botswana, and particularly in the Okavango Delta. In some communities the word 'San' is considered derogatory.
The people themselves use names that refer to the language group that they come from, there being about eight different languages in use, although all generally related. These names were deemed too complicated to use in adverts for posh trips to indigenous villages.
Also, on average, one western film crew per month descends on the villages on the north-western edge of the Delta, to film advertising material, glossy magazine features or TV travelogue footage. The usual set-piece demand is for the villagers to dress up in their tribal costumes (which they do anyway), and walk across the salt pans for the cameras, armed with ceremonial spears - which they never normally do.
"Why would we do that, there's nothing out there on the pans. We don't live near them and they're empty except for tourists on quad bikes!"
But the enigmatic image is of a 'San Bushman' walking across a salt pan in his tribal garb. And like everyone else, they need to earn the money that makes this world go round so they accept the film companies' fees.

I also learned a little more about Cecil Rhodes, in particular his dealings in what is now Botswana. He was more of a rogue than I thought he was, and that was quite a lot of a rogue.
In the late 1800s a group of Botswanan chiefs travelled to London to lobby the then government. They accepted the idea of their territories being protected by the British against incursions by other enthusiastic European colonising countries, but had two demands for the government.
That the land taken from them by Rhodes in fraudulent deals be returned, and for the British to ban all import and carriage of alcohol into their territories. Rhodes tried to stop them in Cape Town on their way to England but failed.
The chiefs' two demands also failed, the British view being, more or less, 'a deal's a deal'.
(Rhodes did later lose the land he took from the Botswanan people, as punishment for launching his abortive 'Jameson Raid' from Botswana against the Transvaal. But the land was then appropriated by the British government rather than being returned to the tribes).

After a few more days in Ghanzi, and marking the one-year point of this journey, I departed for Namibia and Gobabis. But took this photo first of some local widlife that seemed to spend time around the hotel building but left the campsite alone, I'm glad to say.


Back on the Trans-Kalahari Highway,


the road continued as featureless as before.


Right up to the Namibian border. Which was the quickest border-crossing so far, I think. And the emptiest. Only me and one truck, carrying brand new cars into Namibia. (But a big tour group going the other way).
Then the road continued, even dryer and bleaker. And maybe even straighter.


And then this, about halfway to Windhoek:


It's like that restaurant I mentioned once before, called 'Three Chairs Missing'.
I'll call this place 'One Letter Missing'.
And things became a little more interesting. Trees returned.


And distant mountains.


And a distant horizon at last.



And I began to review the situation of the next bit of my journey.
I stopped in Gobabis that night, within easy distance of Windhoek and the next major crossroads.
The last few day's travelling had brought about quite a change. In the scenery, the atmosphere of the towns, in the people, in everything really. And memories of what many other travellers had told me over previous months began to queue up to be reviewed.

"Isn't it funny, how the more prosperous people become, the less happy they are."
"The further south you go, the more expensive it becomes."
"You have to remember, the people who say how wonderful the south-west coast is, the Namibian deserts and sand dunes - for a lot of them that's the only bit of Africa they've seen. They've never been to Ethiopia, Sudan, western Tanzania, the Sahara."
And so it goes on. And it seems to be true.

Just recently I've heard from Sabine and Bodo who accompanied us on that other highway, the Trans East-African Highway of northern Kenya. (Unlike that one, this Kalahari version is all smooth tarmac, neat verges, straight, and so boring.)
They are ahead of me, and have had their Mercedes truck broken into and cameras stolen, inside a fenced and security-guarded campsite on the Namibian coast.
And there was Pedro, an American who has lived in Johannesburg for many years but is now on an open-ended journey going generally northwards to see the rest of Africa. I met him in Gweta on my way to Maun and we exchanged lots of information.
"Be careful in Namibia and South Africa," he warned. "Lots of thefts are inside jobs, arranged inside guarded hotels and lodges. And Windhoek may not be a good place to stay in, there are reports of travellers witnessing violence on the streets."
A couple of days later I happened to read Sabine's blog: "We have our cameras returned, the police seemed to know where to find them being sold on the streets, but no one is arrested. And as I write this, a man is running down the street being chased by another wielding a machette. And a car is involved as well."
In Mikumi, southern Tanzania, I met Max, a Kenyan documentary film maker returning by road from the World Cup. He had been making a documentary about the effects of the football competition on the lives of ordinary black South Africans in and around Cape Town.
We talked quite a bit, and he said, "You may not like it when you reach South Africa and Cape Town after travelling all down the east coast."
"There, society is still white-dominated. In a restaurant everyone will be white, the only black people will be doing the cleaning and washing-up. Despite all that Nelson Mandela did, things haven't changed very much. I've been making a film about that and who the World Cup really benefitted."
He had been a journalist on a national Kenyan newspaper but went freelance with a camera after he found his stories were never published as he wrote them. "Everything is edited so that it falls in line with the western view of Africa."
He had two Italians with him who were independent film-makers and helping to get his documentary published.
"No one in the established film industry will touch this stuff because of what I've filmed, but these two may be able to get it out to the public."

So, things may be different ahead.

Certainly, over the last week, the number of 'large' people in the streets has gone from zero to a noticeable amount, and the number of morose and sullen faces, ditto. The cheery welcomes and greetings and hospitality aren't so cheery now.

There's also the paperwork.
My customs Carnet for H.M. The Bike expires at the end of October. Renewal shouldn't cost an arm and a leg, like the first edition, but will be well into three figures. And being in the Southern Africa Customs Union means I have to deal not only with the RAC back home but also with the South African version of the RAC, with papers, forms and phone calls passing between all three of us. The courier charges for sending all those papers around will probably be three figures as well, and I have to have a postal address for a while. So is it worth extending it? To stay longer in an area I might not like?

So, a decision needs to be made in Windhoek.
I can either turn left, to the south and the South African border, missing a lot of the Atlantic Coast. But arriving in Cape Town in time to ship the bike back home before the end of October.
Or, turn right, to the north, the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Desert, the Swakop river, and a few hundred more miles and more time.

Well, for a few moments I thought on that in Gobabis, but decided that I'd decide what to do once I'm on the road to Windhoek the next day. See how things felt, how the bike was going, what the weather was like.

So I set off west the following morning, thinking I don't really need to decide, left or right, until I've been through Windhoek on the way to its Western Bypass on the far side. And really, I can even wait until I approach the bypass junction, so
......... I think I'd better think it out again.........
when it's time to press the L-R indicator switch.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:33 AM GMT

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