(69) Into the wild with a babelas
Tuesday 6th August
After hearing voices in the tent next to us we checked the time to see it was 4.30am and still an hour before we needed to get up. We caught up on a few more winks but it wasn’t long before the whole camp area was packing up for their trip to Lusaka. It was still pitch black with only the stars to light the sky when we climbed out of the tent. With a long day on a dangerous road ahead due to the wild animals, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to cover the 70 miles to the first safe place to stay.
We were soon packed and riding out the gate. There was still no sign of the sun coming up and the potential of wild animals on the road and after hearing hyenas in the night, we both felt a little worried. However we still ended up on the road in the dark which we had managed to avoid the night before! It was around 4 miles to the junction south which with tired legs felt more like ten. We reached the junction and sat on a flat bit of ground to eat breakfast having not seen any animals.
Having a quick breakfast before entering lion territory
We were among many trucks waiting for the pontoon to cross the Zambezi heading back into Zambia. With the sky slowly getting lighter we sat watching the drivers climb slowly out of their trucks all hoping to cross the pontoon soon – we had met some drivers who had waited for 3 days. We set off with the sun up lighting the way. As we climbed a gentle slope passing truck after truck for 3 miles we wondered how long the last driver would have to wait before his turn. The road levelled out only climbing about 2 metres a mile and we both kept looking into the bush. This was lion and elephant country which made us nervous. We had been advised by the locals not to stop anywhere along the road and certainly not camp. We passed an old quarry where the sand spilled out on to the highway. There were fresh lion prints in the sand and we wondered how long they had been there.
How fresh were these??
We rode on not stopping to eat our snacks on the go as we were worried about becoming the next meal. Sharon spotted something in the bush that looked like a large tree truck until it swished its tail, snorted then ran. We found out later that it was a large antelope – the largest of its kind.
With no elephants or lions spotted so far, we wondered if we were over worrying and were soon passed by a lovely Dutch couple called Jan and Maryke driving a self-contained truck. They were on holiday in Botswana and South Africa for 5 weeks. They kindly stopped and put the kettle on for us. It was great to meet them and sit feeling safe as we could dive inside their vehicle if an animal approached. It was so wonderful to chat and we enjoyed a cappuccino and biscuits with them. We got going and waved as they passed us again heading south.
Having coffee on the side of the road
After being passed by a few overlanders we almost gave up looking for animals when we saw 3 huge bull elephants under a tree. They immediately eyed us up and so we quickly took a picture before anything happened. Bull elephants are renowned for not liking cyclists and we had heard stories about them charging – we planned to keep our distance. We had learned that it’s important not to make any sudden noises or movements as this can aggravate them. Once safely past, within a few hundred metres, Tim looked to his right to see 2 giraffes running parallel to us about 50 metres in the bush – it was an amazing experience that we’ll never forget.
We had covered 55 miles and were getting closer to Pandamatenga where we would stop for the night. We passed through a large farm area with a sign saying ‘game hunting allowed here’.
Thinking that this would be the end of the animals, Sharon soon spotted a large herd of around 18 elephants heading south across a large field. We stopped to watch them and were surprised to see how fast they moved. We rode on to find a spot to watch them more closely.
Taking a break to watch the elephants
The herd of elephants who covered the ground surprisingly quickly!
We reached the junction for the town now feeling shattered and spotted a Chinese road company. We wondered in to see if we could camp there. We were told to wait when a South African guy called Justin asked what we were doing. We explained about our trip and he made a few phone calls then told us we could camp at the ‘Touch of Africa lodge’ where he was based and would treat us to dinner. We were shocked and so happy. Justin was the company lawyer and lived near Cape Town but was currently based in Pandamatenga. We headed back down the highway a few kilometres and rode up the drive. The manager Gary met us and we were soon joined by Frans the owner. We pitched the tent and met another lovely couple staying there. Everyone was so nice.
As Tim headed down to the shower Frans told us about 6 wild dogs that were drinking from the lake. Wild dogs are very rare and to see 6 was almost unheard of. He had just missed them but when he came out there was about 6 large elephants washing in the lake only 50 metres away. It was amazing to watch. As the night went on, we sat with Justin and Ed who was the Resident Engineer, watching as different animals came to drink.
Ed, Shaz and Justin
We just couldn’t believe where we were and Justin continued to be an amazing host, starting with beer which turned into whiskey, then chocolate then the final surprise was that he had booked us into a lodge for 2 nights. He added that he had organised for Frans to take us on a game drive the following day. We couldn’t believe it. Why did we deserve this – we were just on a cycle ride. We had an amazing evening with amazing people and slept in an amazing room. How different can our days get and we just kept pinching ourselves.
Wednesday 7th August
We woke in our amazing room with a high thatched ceiling and zebra skins on the wall. We had arranged to go into the office with Justin but before we left we joined him for a full-English breakfast. Once at the office we settled ourselves down as he was off to a meeting and we worked on the blog and caught up with family until lunchtime when Justin bought us back a KFC which we swiftly demolished.
A special treat!
We headed back to the lodge where we rested until Frans took us for a game drive. As soon as we left the buildings behind we saw a magnificent giraffe that stood still long enough for us to appreciate his height.
Heading out on a dirt road we soon got a puncture and whilst looking for a rock to put under the jack, Tim crossed into Zimbabwe as we’d told the adjacent track was the border! He was very excited but the view on the other side was exactly the same so he decided to head back rather than enter the country illegally, which probably wasn’t a great idea. We saw a few more elephants and deer before headed towards another game lodge to have a ‘sun down’ – this means a drink at sunset to us English people.
It was great watching elephants bathe in the mud – they were fascinating to watch whilst having a drink at the bar.
Having a bath
Elephants and a stunning African sunset
We headed back to ‘Touch of Africa’ for dinner with Justin and his friend Steve who was a local famer from Zimbabwe – Justin had organised a feast for us which included roasted Impala with all the trimmings. It really was a delicious meal. We hung out afterwards enjoying a few more beers in great company – another great night.
Shaz, Justin and Steve
Thursday 8th August
As the night went on it was totally silent with only the odd chirp or call from some animal. It was around 6 am when we heard the lions. Not sure how far away they were we listened intently – it was amazing to listen to. We were told they could be many kilometres away – a lion’s roar is incredibly loud and the sound will travel a long way.
We got up and cleared all our things and went out to pack the tent (we’d decided to leave it up as it was storing the bikes). We had said goodbye to Justin the evening before as he had left early in the morning to visit his family near Cape Town. He had invited us to stay with them when we get down there so we were looking forward to seeing him again and meeting his family. With the tent down Frans came over excited as there were 6 wild dogs at the pond. They were so cool – they didn’t hang around long and we watched them wonder off tracking some small impala.
A rare sight
We went in to the bar to have coffee and borrowed Gary’s hair clippers to cut Tim’s hair as he was starting to look a little too at home in the bush. We had a pack lunch waiting for us courtesy of Justin, with impala sandwiches, yogurt and fruit. It made a great change from peanut butter sandwiches! We said thanks to France and Mandi – it had been such an unexpected and amazing break.
It wasn’t long before we reached the junction and stopped for a drink and chatted to a few locals before continuing. The road was great to start with but with the amount of traffic we knew we wouldn’t see any wildlife. Tim picked up a puncture from the inside of the tyre degrading which was annoying as we not only had to patch the inner tube but patch the inside of the tyre.
Fixing a puncture in lion territory!
We soon reached a road diversion – the road was under construction, something we were really familiar with in Africa – it was being worked on by a South African road company where we hoped to stay that night.
Another road under construction
The traffic got busier and the chance of seeing wildlife got slimmer. We stopped on a bank to eat our sandwiches as it had got quiet which meant less dust in them. We then worked out that we were pretty much where Gary the manager at the lodge had told us was the best place to spot lions. Needless to say we finished our lunch of impala and got going. The wind had changed direction giving us a tail wind. The road works soon ended along with the heavy traffic.
Farmland and new tarmac
We had only been riding for half an hour on the new stretch of road when Tim jumped after spotting a huge male giraffe under a tree next to the road. We then rode on seeing 3 more. It wasn’t long before we reached the Sladdin camp and went into see Deon – a contact we had been given by Casper who we’d met on the Zambia/Botswana border. We met a lady who told us the Deon we wanted had gone back to Cape Town for a holiday. We were introduced to Neels the boss who didn’t batter an eye lid showing us to a cabin where we relaxed for a few hours and even got to watch a bit of TV! We were invited to a BBQ that evening known in South Africa as a braai. It was to become a very familiar word! We had a great evening and met Kallie who was a mechanic and Louw who was an engineer and Leani his wife. They were a great bunch and we soon felt like we’d known them for years! Amazing.
A great evening
Friday 9th August
After a great night we got up and cooked breakfast. With an arrangement to meet Neels and the guys to watch the rugby and sink a few beers at a friend’s farm the following night near our next stop, we headed out onto the highway. We saw Kallie on the way out and thanked him for being a great host. The wind was in our side and pushed us gently down the road. The road was new with a great hard shoulder giving us enough space to ride side by side. It stayed busy making spotting wildlife on the road less likely. We looked all the time under trees and in the bush spotting the odd small deer or kudu.
A female kudu – we just love the ears!
We were passed by a couple we had met at ‘Touch of Africa’ lodge who stopped to say hi which was nice – they even gave us a sweet to keep us going! We continued on passing many overlanders heading north and stopped at a rest area which warned of wild animals. We didn’t see any and soon finished lunch heading south.
The only wild animal we spotted that morning!
We were starting wonder if there were any more animals this far south when Tim saw a huge bull elephant and stopped – it was about 30 metres away. Tim said ‘good morning’ to him when the elephant moved breaking a huge branch making us both jump and ride off at speed! We saw a few more giraffe and elephants but didn’t stop to say hi.
A stunning giraffe
We passed a quarantine control where we had to walk and ride through some solution – they told us they were controlling the spread of foot and mouth disease.
Shaz not wanting to get her feet wet twice
Tim enjoying the good road
After 65 miles we reached the junction where we turned right for Elephant Sands – a campsite where we were going to stay the night. The track in was terrible with really soft deep sand which made pushing the bikes almost impossible.
Pushing the bikes in the sand
Ben the owner came past and said he would send a truck out to pick us up and went on. It wasn’t long before a pickup arrived and we loaded the bikes on. The truck trundled on through the deep sand and we arrived at a large thatched building with a pond on front of it. There was already around 6 large elephants drinking and washing. We checked in and set up camp. As more elephants arrived we walked down in front of the bar where we sat 3 metres away on a low platform that the elephants could have just stepped over but didn’t as they knew their boundary. It was amazing to see these huge wild animals so close.
One of the elephants at the water hole
While Sharon put the kettle on Tim went for a shower which looked out over to the elephants. They were so close and when he came out there was a huge bull elephant just 10 metres away heading to the water. It turned to look at him which made him really nervous but then just turned back and walked on to drink.
Saturday 10th August
We were heading off to a braai and the rugby with Neels and the guys later so we spent the morning watching the elephants. The pool had a tree lying next to it and we asked what had happened. Apparently one of the elephants had pushed it over the day before. They can be pretty destructive when they want to be.
Shaz watching the elephants from the tent
The tree pushed over by an elephant
They came to pick us up just after lunch and we arranged to leave our tent and bikes at the campsite as we were going to stay at the farm for the night. The beers were soon opened and we settled down to watch the rugby- 2 South African teams – the Lions and the Cheaters. Shaz supported the Lions and Tim the Cheaters – the Lions won! As Neels was a Cheaters supporter he had to swim the length of the water hole which he said wasn’t cold, it just stank of elephant wee…
Unfortunately for Neels, his team lost!
The braai was soon on the go and we spent the evening watching elephants and enjoying great company. It was good to swop some South African and English jokes!!
Shaz, Kallie and the elephants
An amazing viewing platform!
Heading off after having a wash
The South Africans know how to cook a braai and we were soon enjoying a great feast. We finally called it a night and headed off to our bed for the night.
A delicious ‘Braai’
Sunday 11th August
We both woke with fragile heads and went down to see the others who were already up with the fire going. We soon learned the Afrikaans word for hangover – babelas! We sat in front of the pond drinking coffee to try and restore some life. We had been invited to have breakfast at another farm down the track so once all our things had been loaded in the pickup we drove out of the farm through a maze of sand tracks.
We arrived at Mike’s place which was stunning. Mike was the son-in-law of Ben the owner of Elephant Sands. It had a swimming pool in the front and a large pond for the wildlife to drink from. Neels was in the pool straight away but it took us a while to feel well enough to venture in.
Hanging by the pool – Kallie, Shaz, Leani and Lowu
Breakfast turned into brunch with a lamb stew known as poykei. It was delicious and with a few beers, it was going to be another fun day. It was so nice to take time out although we were now starting to feel a little lazy with the amount of time off we were having and food we were eating. The road to Nata was meant to take 3 days and with the likelihood of seeing lions and elephants we hadn’t wanted to hang around. In the end it took us 7 days but what fun we were having!
Neels getting a back scrub from Tim!
It was around 3 that we decided to go back to Elephant Sands to pick up a few things. We took the sand road through the bush with Sharon driving – it was great. It was her first sand track and Neels said ‘on sand, speed is your friend!’ We picked up a few beers from the bar at the campsite and the Dutch receptionist Inker came back with us. Tim drove back and we were now in a competition to see who drove the best in deep sand. We arrived back at Mike’s with spilt ice cubes so Neels gave the title to Sharon! The braai was refit in the fire pit and after a dip in the pool we enjoyed a few more beers. A giraffe came to the pond a little nervous at first but it was amazing to it built up the courage to drink. Once he had gone 2 young female kudus also enjoyed some refreshment.
It was so much fun being there with these great guys. The sun set and it was time for us to head back to our tent and the others to head back to the construction camp. Tim jumped in the back with Kallie and spotted a large owl fly off into the bush. We said our thanks not believing how amazing they had all been and how lucky we were to meet not only these guys but Justin and his mates. It had been a whirlwind of kindness and overwhelming generosity.
Shaz and Kallie
Lowu and Leani
Cowburt and Neels
Monday 12th August
It was around 2 in the morning when Sharon shouted ‘Tim there is an elephant outside the tent.’ We both sat bolt upright to look out the door to see how close it was. As we looked out we could only see a large pond with no elephants. We looked out and around the tent to find there was nothing there at all. We climbed back in unsure of what it was to find that the tarpaulin draped over the tent for shade, gave off a perfect silhouette of an elephant. Relieved we fell asleep with the wind starting to pick up. Tim jumped out the tent to take the tarp down as it was flapping loudly and we both woke in the heat of the sun.
We were both feeling a little drained from drinking too much over the last couple days and a rather disturbed night’s sleep. It seemed to take ages to pack and have breakfast. We met a few of the guests who came to say hello – one of which gave us some chocolate to help us on our way :). Inka sorted out a lift to the main road meaning we didn’t have to push through deep sand and we soon got on our way.
The bikes loaded to take us back to the main road
The road was still good with its nice wide hard shoulder. We spotted what at first looked like buffalo from a distance and it turned out to be wild emu. We saw a couple more elephants having a go at a tree but as we got closer to the town of Nata we saw less and less wild animals. We decided to keep going until we reached the town where we found a shop which was very expensive so we just bought a snack. We asked if there were any more shops in town and the answer was no, so we bought what we could get and rode out of town. We passed a butcher on the left and picked up some steak as it had been recommended to us and decided to have lunch under their canopy. It was hot outside and having not much drinking much water we were feeling a little rubbish. We cooked egg sandwiches and drank water to revive ourselves but with a little way till the turn off for the salt pans where we heading, we got going.
Wild horses at the side of the road
What are those funny looking cyclists doing?
It was already 4pm and with only a couple of hours of light left we got as many miles done as we could stopping at a veterinary fence. These fences are used to keep wild animals away from stock and they are usually manned. We asked the guy there if we could ride out onto the pan along the road that followed the fence. The guy said it was fine and safe to do so, so off we rode with the sun setting. We found a great spot, parked the bikes and lit a fire. It was a brilliant spot and we sat enjoying the rest of the sunset preparing our steak.
The track that led to the edge of a salt pan
Our camp on the edge of the pan
We were just cooking the second steak for sandwiches the next day when we heard a vehicle drive up the track towards us. They tried crossing over the ridge onto the pan but got stuck. Tim went over thinking it was an overlander only to find it was a small Honda van. They were going out to the edge of the pan to collect grass which is used for roofing. Tim showed them a better way to get on the pan and lent them a torch. We finished packing up and with both of us washed. Tim waited for them to return and they arrived not long after then asked if we had money for fuel and food. Tim politely said we couldn’t help and they headed on. Unsure if we would have more visitors that night, it took us a while before we relaxed and slept.
We were planning next to cross a salt pan and it would be quite an adventure!
Thanks for reading!