Botswana

8th of March – 20th of March 2024:

After around 30 minutes we left Namibia and entered Botswana and the whole procedure was as relaxed as it could be. In the first and largest village for the next two days, we wanted to buy a SIM-card and withdraw money. Unfortunately, all our (three) cards did not work and we had to find another way.

At the fuel station, we asked around if there was another possibility to exchange US dollars to the local currency. Suddenly, a young woman whispered. «How much do you need»? Finally, a man exchanged 100 US dollars for us in about five minutes for an acceptable rate into the local currency Pula.

This and buying a SIM-card cost us a lot of time and nerves, but luckily, we were already used to this from our last journey. Despite that, our first impression of Botswana was great. The locals were very relaxed and excited to see us. The atmosphere was definitely more African than in Namibia. Everywhere, we heard loud music and people approached us and asked where we are going. Even the kids were excited again and ran towards us when we passed.

Even around 8 AM it was already hot and we knew that this is going to be a strenuous day. Our bums already hurt from day 1 and our legs got more tired day after day. Neither of us was cycling a lot in the last few months. We commuted to work or went shopping using the bicycle, but never sat on the saddle for several hours straight.

In a small village, we refilled our water bottles and talked to some kids. Their English was excellent and it was very interesting to talk to them.

Around noon, we reached the last settlement for the next 110 kilometers. We ate and drank something and waited until the hottest hours of the day passed. Meanwhile, Fabian tried to adjust his gear shifting. Unfortunately, this did not work as he planned and the cable had to be replaced. This was one of the only spare parts we brought with us. When he replaced the cable, we saw the problem. The mantle, which surrounds the cable was destroyed at one point. Fabian separated the cable at this point and mounted the remaining cable again. Like this, he could at least choose between two out of three chainrings. Hopefully, we can find such a hose for the gear shifting cable in one the following larger cities.

While Fabian was fixing his bike, Adrian asked some truck drivers to deposit 4 liters of water after 70 kilometers. One of them was willing to do it and we exchanged phone numbers, so he could tell us as soon as it was done.

Like this we had to carry less water and could save some energy. On the way to the first real junction since Windhoek which was after 470 kilometers, we experienced some drops of rain, since there were storm clouds above us. Besides this refreshment, we sadly had strong headwind and therefore wasted a lot of energy.

After one of the hottest nights up to now, we turned left at a huge junction. So, instead of driving to the capital of Gaborone to the right, we drove northwards.

Soon, we reached Ghanzi, the so called capital of the Kalahari desert with a population of around 20’000 people. The Kalahari desert is a semi-arid sandy savanna, but counts occasionally as a desert. It is located mostly in Namibia and Botswana. With a size of around a million square kilometers, the Kalahari desert is the seventh largest desert in the World.

After another 40 kilometers during the hottest time of the day, we reached Dekar. There, we found a small supermarket. We bought a half liter energy drink for both of us and took a break in the shade. We met an older missionary, which even spoke the local click language. He told us that all the land of the village and the surrounding farms belong to the church.

Afterwards, we could profit from the shade of the passing storms. Unfortunately, the headwind stayed with us and we tortured ourselves with slow speed on the dead-straight tar road. The landscape was almost the same since we crossed the border and did not make the strenuous ride more interesting.

Finally, we decided to pitch our tent at a rest stop directly next to the main road. Before, we asked a few men with a small truck, if they have some water for us. We got enough water for the night and asked them why they were standing next to the road. One of the men answered with a huge smile: «We had to wait about 45 minutes because our engine overheated, but soon we can continue”. We had to laugh hard, since he said this sentence like it was something completely normal to do.

Shortly before we wanted to sleep, a large truck stopped next to us. We thought the driver stopped for a toilet break. After a while we checked and saw that the driver already slept. Unfortunately, the truck transported goods, which had to be cooled and we had to sleep next to this noise the whole night.

One hour earlier than the last few days, we continued towards north. In the first village we passed, the locals were already drinking alcohol and were in a good mood. Unfortunately, we saw many times that men and women were drinking the whole day in Botswana. At the end it is hard to imagine for us how it is to live without a job and any perspectives. That is why we try not to judge and see it from their perspective.

In general, we saw many beautiful, traditional round-huts. At a veterinary check-point, we asked a lady if she could give some water to a passing car in about two hours. We gave her the bottles and hoped that this plan would work. Indeed, about 2.5 hours later a car stopped and gave us our bottles. The German French couple gave us even a cool soft drink, which made us really happy.

Even before our first longer break, we cycled more than 100 kilometers. It was a struggle, since the sun was already trying to suck us dry and the headwind prevented us from moving forward. After all, the landscape changed a bit and looked more and more like a savannah. At a restaurant, we could refuel and eat something. In addition, we could wash our sweaty bodies and wash our clothes. After another 40 kilometers, we finally fell into a deep recovery sleep.

To omit the heat and make the maximum out of the remaining two days with Adrian’s parents, we set the alarm to 6 AM. Unfortunately, already after a few kilometers we had headwind again and we progressed only slowly afterwards. Steadily, we got closer to Maun and were glad to arrive there before noon. Maun is the fourth largest city in Botswana with around 90’000 people live there.

Directly in the center, we drove to the office of the Moremi game reserve to book an activity. Before, we had problems to find an affordable offer. Many lodges demand for one night around 1000 US dollars, which was definitely too much for us. In addition, to reach many of the lodges in the Okavango delta one has to fly there due to the lack of roads.

Quickly, we found a young, friendly woman from a trip organizer and told her what we were looking for. She sold us a package for four people for one day including an overnight in the delta, which has the status of an UNESCO natural heritage site. It was still an expensive deal, but a lot cheaper compared to all offers so far.

On the way to the campsite, a car overtook us and flashed at the same time. Instead of waiting for us to pass, he turned and rammed Fabian from the side. He fell and skidded on the tarmac. In shock, Fabian got up and was very angry, since he did not do anything wrong. The driver explained us that he flashed and honked and this would be enough for him to turn. Even after a heated discussion, he did not see his wrongdoing. A similar situation happened again a few minutes later. This time we could break early enough to prevent another accident. Luckily, Fabian only had a scrape on his hand, a bruise on this wrist and a large shock. The bicycle was still intact.

On the campground of the Sedia Riverside Hotel, we met Adrian’s parents again and were looking forward to the coming days together. After a quick meal, Bruce picked us up in a Safari vehicle and we started to drive in the direction of the delta.

Two hours before sunset, we arrived in the delta at a river and entered the so called Mokoro. These are traditional boats, which were driven and stirred using a large pole, since the river was at maximum 1.5 meters deep. In a distance of around 15 meters, there were several hippos in the water. After about 40 minutes in the boats, we arrived on a small island, where we discharged two boats full of material (tents, mattresses, food, tables and chairs) and installed everything.

The «cook» made a nice fire and prepared a delicious curry with chicken for us. Next to a lot of small talk, we learned a lot about the culture in the small villages of the delta and in general about Botswana. Tired from all the impressions, we withdrew into our tents.

Already at 5.30 AM we got up and after a short breakfast, we entered the boats which brought us to the mainland. Here, we hiked for about three hours on small trails through high grass and learned a lot about the wildlife and its habits. We saw several African buffalos, many large birds and even elephants and antelopes.

Back on «our» island, which was only one out of 150’000 in the delta, we relaxed in the shade since it was already around 40 degrees again. Later, we had lunch before we broke down the tents and kitchen installation. Everything had to be carried back to the boats and we were transported back to the mainland. After a heartwarming farewell with our guide and his helpers, we drove back to the campsite with the safari vehicle. Extremely tired from the heat and the exhausting ride, we recovered at the pool and enjoyed a delicious diner to finish the day.

After a relaxing night and an extensive breakfast together, we took a shared cab to the airport of Maun. There, we visited the offices of all airlines which organize scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. In the second office we found an available flight for the same day.

Afterwards we visited the only bicycle mechanic in town and Fabian got a new gear shifting cable and the matching cover. The workshop including all the bicycles and spare parts were on a trailer. Afterwards, we bought new food supplies and drove back to the campground. There, we ate lunch and relaxed in the shade of the mighty trees.

In the afternoon, we took a taxi to the airport again and waited at the office for the pilot of the scenic flight. After a long waiting period, we could finally get started and our small airplane was ready. The very young pilot welcomed us aboard and showed us how to get seated. It was a special feeling to take off with such a small plane and literally feel every air hole. He flew directly into the delta and soon we saw the first animals about 150 meters below us. First, we saw hundreds of African buffalos, then again and again herds of elephants with cubs, antelopes, hippos and giraffes. The waterways of the delta, their splendor of color and the many animal trails were a feast for the eye from the bird’s eye view. We flew several circles above the animals and after 45 minutes, this unique experience was already finished.

Afterwards, we eagerly exchanged what we have seen, since it was too loud in the airplane to talk. We reflected this amazing day during a delicious dinner.

During the last mutual breakfast together with Adrians parents, we enjoyed the luxury of yoghurt and muesli, before we said goodbye to them. Andre and Rita have a flight back home in two days and still had to drive about 800 kilometers back to Windhoek.

We relaxed on the beautiful patio with its green surroundings and did some things, which accumulated in the last sport intensive days. In the afternoon, we packed our things and left the ugly city of Maun again. We left the city with a strange feeling, since the accident of Fabian was still on our minds. Now, two days after the incident, Fabian complained about pain in the ribs during specific movements. Hopefully, this bruise is going to heal soon.

The Okavango river which flows through the city, has no water at the moment. Only from June the river transports water from Angola and floods the delta. The special thing about this is that after Maun, the river does not continue, since the river evaporates inside the delta.

As a change, we had no headwind and therefore made good progress. At a veterinary check point, we refilled our water bottles and installed our tent a bit further down the road.

After half an hour, we met two Frenchmen with their bicycles. They were on the way to Namibia. We exchanged information and were happy about the first meeting with other cyclists. Adrians parents met them a few days ago and helped them out with some water.

The tailwind took a break for now and we even had some tailwind from time to time. Therefore, we progressed more efficiently. After a bit more than three hours, we reached the village Phuduhudu. There, we took a break next to a supermarket, which only had about 10% of his shelves stocked with food. The options were therefore rather limited.

What we saw instantly next to the entrance of the shop was a condom vending machine. There, locals could get condoms for free. Botswana has a HIV infection rate of about 25%. This is the second place in all of Africa. In the last 15 years, the life expectancy was lower than 50 years. Through governmental and international support, the life expectancy was increased to almost 70 years.

In the village, we decided to try to reach Gweta. This village was still another 80 kilometers away, without any village or water in between. Suddenly, we saw elephants, zebras and ostriches directly next to the road only a few meters away from us. Like this we could do a safari while cycling, a special experience.

Thanks to wind and temperatures below 40 degrees, we reached Gweta before 5 PM. There, we treated ourselves with a cold beverage and bought yoghurt for the next morning. While we bought these items, someone stole Adrians drinking bottle. Despite asking around, we did not find anyone who saw something. Then, a local man approached us and offered his drinking bottle, so we did not have a negative image from Botswana due to this incident. This was a wonderful gesture and confirmed our secure feeling up to this point.

From several travelers, we heard about a campsite in Gweta with lots of baobabs. We cycled there and even managed to cycle 150 kilometers in one day. During dinner, a fierce storm passed and brought strong wind and rain. Directly after, we checked our tent. Luckily, our tent was still there and our spot was not flooded like the rest of the campground. Only the silk sleeping bags were wet.

After the intense day, we started the following day more relaxed. We walked around the area of the lodge and looked at the huge and extremely old baobabs. Up to that point, we have not seen trees as thick and old.

Due to the rain form the past evening and the hot temperatures in the morning, the humidity was very high. After 10 cycling days we already reached the sum of 1000 kilometers and therefore our first milestone.

About one hour before the next city, we met an Lithuanian cyclist, which was already realizing his project since eight years. He rowed across the Atlantic and the pacific ocean and the rest of the distance around the planet he did on a bicycle. Directly after this acquaintance, there were several sections where the road was washed away and since then there was no more tarmac around.

In Nata we found a delicious, local meal after all these burgers and other western influenced dishes. Additionally, we bought new food supplies, since there was another section of 200 kilometers in front of us without any village. Many people approached us and asked where we came from with the bicycles and where we plant to sleep. Even teenagers came to talk to us and were curious. This would be hard to imagine in Switzerland.

After a well-deserved rest at the riverside under a roof of an abandoned lodge, we attacked the last long section without any possibilities to buy food. After around 30 kilometers, we stopped at an antenna which was even guarded. The introvert man works for two weeks straight and then has two weeks off.

Around noon, we reached another mouth and foot checkpoint. There, we could refill our water bottles and drink something cool. Already while we were filling our water bottles, we saw an elephant around ten meters away from us. The immense animals removed the lid of the water channels to be able to drink from it. For the police officers, this visit was nothing special, since they see this every day.

Next to the police officers, there was meat drying in the hot air. They told us that is was elephant meat and we should try it. We tasted it and thought it was quite delicious. During lunch, another elephant visited the checkpoint and ate some grass. Then he wanted to drink from the small pool, where the cars have to drive through to get cleaned. The police officers tried to scare the elephant away using rocks, but he did not care much and drank until he was satisfied. For the police a daily problem, for us this was a highlight since we entered Botswana.

After 100 kilometers, we stopped at a deserted settlement, which other cyclists recommended to us. We installed the tent and realized quickly that there were hundreds of small and large thorns on the ground. We did not dare to put our air mattresses there. So, we moved into one of the empty round-huts.

Before we started cycling, we had to remove dozens of thorns from our tires, shoes, clothes and even our skin. The landscape changed steadily and got greener than a few days ago. During the last days, we realized that Botswana only has 2.6 million inhabitants and a population density of 4.6 people per km2.

Several times, we saw elephants close to the road. One of them moved his ears around and when we passed, he ran into the bush like he was scared. Strangely, the elephants are more scared by us than the trucks on the road.

After around two hours, Adrian realized that he had problems to accelerate and saw that he was losing air in his front tire. So, we did the lunch break and had to repair our first puncture. It was not surprising that we had our first puncture after the night in the minefield of thorns.

At the kilometer mark 135, Adrians parents deposited 5 liters of water for us about a week ago. We took the water out of the bush and refilled our water bottles. A moment later, an almost 2 meter long snake crossed the road. We were glad to see this beautiful animal here and not in the bush.

In Pandamatenga, we could eat something and even charge our laptop after 200 kilometers of nature. After a longer break, we could even take a shower in an unfinished supermarket, which will open in a few weeks.

Similar as on the first day in Namibia, Fabian realized after a few meters that we could not start our cycling day yet. The issue was a flat front tire. He found the tiny hole instantly and we could start riding towards the city of Kasane 100 kilometers away.

For once, he had temporarily tailwind and therefore reached an average speed of almost 25 km/h. At a fuel and rest stop for truck drivers, we found a small restaurant serving delicious melas including potato salad.

Afterwards, we cycled the remaining distance to Kasane in one go. There, we wanted to sleep at a campground directly on the Zambezi river. The Zambezi is after the Nile, Congo and the Niger with 2574 kilometers length the fourth longest river in Africa.

We found a beautiful spot with permanent shade and were looking forward to a well-deserved break. After a few days in the wilderness, we were happy to eat a burger and drink a cold beer.

The first rest day without any program felt good and we could finally do some maintenance on our bicycles and wash our clothes. The following day, we planned a 9 hour safari in Chobe national park. This national park is about a fourth the size of Switzerland, has a size of 11’700 km2 and is home to around 50’000 elephants. It is the oldest National park in Botswana and one of four in the whole country.

Chobe national Park belongs to the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. This is a cross-border nature and landscape conservation area in the countries of Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Angola. The idea of this area is to enable free migration especially for the elephants. The protected area has a size of around 520.000 km² and is therefore the second largest protected landscape area in the World after Northeast Greenland national park.

At 5:45 AM, the tour started and a safari vehicle picked us up to drive to the national park close by. We were four people excluding the driver and guide Tumi. After a few minutes, we reached the entrance gate and soon we saw the first animals. Around a dozen vehicles entered the park at the same time.

Soon, we saw a few lioness crossing the road. Immediately, a few vehicles packed with tourists appeared. Suddenly, the huge cats accelerated out of nothing and hunted a few impalas. On the other side of the forest, we saw that the hunt was not successful. Instead, four lioness and one young lion were laying in the shade about 30 meters from us. This sight was unique, since the big cats looked directly into our eyes from time to time.

The landscape was magnificent, since a sandy, savannah landscape covered with forest bordered the Zambezi river. On the riverbank, we saw dozens of elephants, antelopes, hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, giraffes and warthogs. One of the highlights was clearly when we saw a baby hippo with his mother eating grass on a small island. Tumi knew all the animals by name and had lots of background information. Even all the species of birds were no problem for him to identify. Before we left the park, we saw almost under every second large tree an elephant family, which searched for protection of the scorching heat of the sun.

We managed the last ten kilometers until the border with Zimbabwe efficiently and exiting Botswana was rather short. Botswana is the most democratic country on the African mainland. If it comes to corruption, the country can even take it up with some European states like Italy. We realized this once more when we were at the border. In many west African countries, we had situation where the border officials asked us for presents or money.