days 13 14 15 16

July 14 – Day 13 of the Old Legs Skeleton Coast Tour

From Katima Mulilo to Namushasha Camp on the eastern boundary of the Bwabata National Park.

Distance – 136 km
Time – 8 hrs 4 min
Av Heart Rate – 129 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 180 bpm

We rode through the Caprivi Strip today. The road was long and flat and mostly straight with bush on both sides, including some fine specimens of Terminalia sericea, and other trees whose names continue to escape me. In a car it might be boring, but on a bike it was beautiful. On a bike you have time to take in the smaller details, like the Terminalia sericea for instance.

The Caprivi Strip has an interesting history. Displaying incredible foresight and vision , the Germans gave England the island of Zanzibar and the future international television rights for the game of cricket in return for for the Caprivi Strip, this so they could gain access to the Zambezi River and sail the interiors of Africa all the way to German East Africa a.k.a. Tanzania. Unfortunately, they forgot to take the Victoria Falls into account, which had been discovered by Livingstone 35 years earlier.

In his own language the German negotiator would be called a dumbass, no translation needed. But for him the Germans would have been able to lay claim to Freddy Mercury.

The full moon watched 10 of us ride out of Kutima Mulilo in the half dark. This time we were able to make it past the spot outside the hospital where George had pulled his Joe Biden without further incident, even though we were riding with all fingers crossed. Back in Harare we knew that George was about to go in to theatre for an emergency hip replacement op, less than 24 hrs after falling.

In Single File

We were able to squeeze in another medical drama before we left our campsite when Adam operated on Pete’s inflamed big toe using a 400 watt Milwaukee power drill and a 1.5 mm drill bit. Pete remained stoic throughout the operation with his poker face in place, and enjoyed instant relief as soon as the drill penetrated the nail, allowing the build up of fluid to come pouring out. I, on the other hand, screamed like a girl and continue to suffer post-traumatic stress, fully understandable given that Adam has offered to fix my sore finger.

Katima Mulilo is a neat little town well equipped with good roads and all the name brand stores but you can tell you are in Africa by the street names. Only in Africa are streets named after living, incumbent Presidents.
We had 136 kilometers of road in front of us. After the 2 short rides previously and yesterday’s aborted ride, the prospect of a long day in the saddle felt good.

The traffic was light and polite. The other riders enjoyed a tail wind and fairly flew, averaging over 30 kph at times. According to his Garmin, Howard would go on to burn in excess of 5000 calories on the ride. At the very back of the peloton, we took it slower as is our want, looking for things to see.

The villages in Namibia are not dissimilar to the the villages in Western Zambia, scruffy to look at by Zimbabwe standards and with square huts, not round ones. Somewhere we passed the invisible line between round huts versus square.

Square huts make more sense to me because at least you have corners to put stuff in. But in Namibia most of the villages are plumbed into the electricity, and often boast multiple large 5000 liter overhead water storage tanks. I was reminded of the poor people we saw digging for dirty drinking water in the riverbed outside Milibizi. Poor Namibians are rich compared to poor Zambians and Zimbabweans.

We saw two Meyer’s parrots and a purple roller. And Nick saw 2 red necked Falcons. They’re considered a big tick for a birder. It was my first almost seeing them.

We rode through the Sobbe Conservancy Area, a 40 kilometer stretch of pristine bush and home to a large variety of animals. Apparently, we almost saw elephant, zebra, waterbuck, kudu and roan antelope, but didn’t! We saw a lot of Beware of the Elephant signs. The elephants on the Namibian signs are magnificent as compared to the Zimbabwean signs.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch stop at a neat and tidy roadside lay bye that was straight out of my Rhodesian childhood, complete with table and benches and a dustbin that actually gets emptied.

Rest Time

Our night stop, Namushasha Camp, is on the Kwando River in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservancy. Displaying almost as much foresight and vision as the Germans, Al Watermeyer pitched his tent on an elephant path through camp, and was made to move by the rangers for fear of being squashed.

The rangers also repaired a hole in the fence around the camp made by a previous elephant incursion, so that we could sleep more easy.

At the evening deliberations, Al Watermeyer was voted the Dick of the Day for slightly overshooting the turnoff to camp by 7 kilometers because he thought there might be ice cream ahead. George was voted Hero of the Day in abstentia for reminding us that age is just a number and for proving that you are never to old to enjoy the best

We enjoyed the best ever sunset overlooking the Kwando river and the best ever buffet dinner at Namushasha Camp. Russell was quick to make friends with the lady manning the buffet. Her name was Christine. Russell told her she reminded him of macaroni cheese, because he loves macaroni cheese. Russell is an operator and enjoyed more prawn starters than the rest of us put together.

sunset

Tomorrow we will be very excited to ride through the Bwabwata National Park, one of Namibia’s premier wildlife parks, boasting elephant, lion and wild dogs. We will ride in a tight bunch with a vehicle in front and behind. I will tuck in behind Nick and Howard who continue to have more meat on them, despite having burnt over 5000 calories.

In closing, a Mucheni George update. His daughter Julie has just told us that in the recovery ward just hours after surgery, George got up and walked 50 meters to the astonishment of the physio. Clearly he is in a hurry to get back on the bike.

And Mr Mthethwa, the surgeon who operated on George, informed us that he is ready to proceed with two of our Operation Marathon patients, husband and wife William and Alison Benny. Huge thanks to Mr Mthethwa and his team for helping us stretch our donations. And huge thanks to all those you have donated towards the Old Legs Medical Fund. In South Africa donations can be directed to our partner charity, the M’dala Trust.

Wish us luck on our ride through the Bwabwata National Park on the morrow.

Until my next blog from Divundu, have fun, do good, do epic – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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PLEASE DONATE TO SUPPORT PENSIONERS STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE IN ZIMBABWE

Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lift the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

July 15 – Day 14 of the Old Legs Skeleton Coast Tour

From the Caprivi Strip to somewhere else in the Caprivi Strip.

Distance – 136 km
Time – 8 hrs 4 min
Av Heart Rate – 132 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 180 bpm

The upside of riding the Caprivi Strip is that you are able to cut and paste whilst blogging , on account of the road being mostly long and flat and straight with bush on both sides, including some fine specimens of Terminalia sericea, and other trees whose names continue to escape me, blah,blah,blah.

There is no downside to riding the Caprivi Strip, other than the road being mostly long and flat and straight with bush on both sides, blah,blah,blah.

But today’s ride almost never happened. You will remember that Al Watermeyer slightly overshot the turnoff to our night stop camp in search of ice cream.

I am able to include the word slightly only because Al encountered a boom gate across the road manned by a police detail who told Al he was not permitted to proceed any further by bicycle, even if he was in search of ice cream, on account of the fact he was riding into a national park complete with elephants and lions.

But for that boom, Al would have overshot by a lot, because the next town with ice cream is 200 kilometers further down the road. Al likes ice cream a lot. But I digress, back to the national park security boom gate.

Al told the guard that we were riding from Harare all the way Swakopmund, and that Swakopmund was on the other side of the guard’s boom. The Warden of the park was duly summoned. By this time, I’d also arrived at the boom, also in search of ice cream, but in the truck.

In The Truck

We explained our mission to the Warden. He was a reasonable guy and empathized with our cause, but rules were rules. There were dangerous animals in the park including lion, elephant, wild dog and buffaloes, and cycling was strictly forbidden for obvious reasons.

I am less than fond of rules and asked if I could speak with the Warden’s boss, the Director of Namibian Parks and Wildlife on the phone. I tried to schmooze the Director, but to no avail, because rules were rules. So I phoned Adam Selby, because that’s what you do when you are faced with insurmountable problems, because the Selbys can and do make shit happen. And they know lots and lots of people.

Long story short. Adam phoned Namibia’s National Ombudsman with whom he had been in contact with regarding the trip, who phoned the Minister of Tourism, who phoned the Warden to tell him the Old Legs Tour could proceed as per plan and ride through the Bwabwata National Park.

All of that happened last night, and unbeknownst to us. Fast forward to this morning and we arrived at the boom gate hoping and praying we could ride, but fully expecting to be told no. When the Warden gave us the green light, we high-fived, excited like kids off to the circus.

Riding in the bush on a mountain bike makes you feel good to be alive. Riding in the bush with animals that can make you dead makes you feel even more alive. You ride with every sense heightened, straining ears and eyes. It so exciting and I love it.

Our perseverance was rewarded as soon as we entered the park when we saw our first lechwe. We don’t get lechwe in Zimbabwe. Similar to impala but more closely related to waterbuck, lechwe are found in the Okavango and other marshlands of South Central Africa. They are specially adapted to their environment with slightly longer back legs that allow them to run through water up to half a meter deep.

Lechwe

We bumped into a pair of Impala rams rutting next to the road. They ran alongside for a few hundred meters, with horns clattering as they had at each other,oblivious to our presence.

Impala

We rode next to a pair of magnificent sable bulls right next to the road. We also saw duiker, steenbok and a tiny dik-dik, no bigger than a spaniel. Linda and Jenny in the front support vehicle also saw zebra and eland.

The game dried up as the day got hotter. That we were riding through thick bush didn’t help. But riding in bush without game is still good muti. But the Caprivi Strip does go on a bit.

As the sun got higher in the sky, my bottom got more sore, and I was yearning for corners to ride around, but all I had in front of me was more dead straight. I have the attention span of a cocker spaniel . But there was no stopping where we wanted or messing around at the back of the bunch, as is my want. Because of the animal threat, we had to ride in a tight bunch with vehicles in close attendance front and back. So I messed around in the front of the bunch, almost getting squashed by a car, earning myself a deserved Dick of the Day.

After 129 kilometers and feeling rather knackered after back-to- back long days in the saddle, we pulled into the first sign of habitation, a police station, to ask if we could camp for the night. The station commander was very hospitable and gave us permission to pitch camp in his car park. On the Uganda Tour we slept in a Tanzanian police Detention Centre , but our Namibian police experience eclipsed that by far. I’d rather be a prisoner in Namibia than in Tanzania! Namibian police stations are clean, Tanzanian stations aren’t.

Our night in the police station car park was memorable. Adam hid a rubber snake in Nik ‘Crash’ Bellwald’s sleeping bag. Nik is Swiss. They don’t do rubber snake jokes in Switzerland. So instead of being petrified when he found the snake, Nik laughed and laughed. He is having the best time of his life.

In closing, a big shout out from Howard to Margie, Daniel, Nick and Maka.

Tomorrow we have another 70 kilometers of Bwabwata National Park in front of us, complete with elephants hopefully, and then another 20 kilometers to our next rest day at Divundu on the Angolan border.

Until my next blog from there, have fun, do good, do epic – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

July 17 – Day 15 and 16 of the Old Legs Skeleton Coast Tour

From the Caprivi Strip to Divundu in the Caprivi Strip

Distance – 109 km
Time – 7 hrs 6 min
Av Heart Rate – 122 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 197 bpm.
Ascent – 193 m

I am blogging to you from the banks of the Kavango River, on the Angolan border. It is my first time seeing Angola. At first glance, Angola looks like Namibia.

We can hear the river from our tent, rushing in an obvious hurry to get to the Swamps in Botswana. The Kavango must be 100 meters wide here, and fast running, maybe as fast as 12 kilometers per hour.

We are camped at the Riverdance Lodge. It is quite the most beautiful spot with tall trees that aren’t Trerminalia sericeas, or flowering Flamboyants or Jacarandas. The trees are full of squirrels and birds and we’ve been told to also beware of hippos, and elephants. Two elephants passed through the day before we arrived.

Riverdance Lodge

The bird life is very prolific and I was able to positively identify the Yellow-bellied Greenbul,a new species for me, but only after it landed on the palm of my hand in search of crumbs.

Incredibly, we left our police station in the middle of the Bwabwata National Park well rested, even Pete Brodie who managed to pitch his swag directly beneath a flood lamp that strobe flashed on and off every 30 seconds, like a disco. The rest of us know for sure that the flashing light kept every dog for a kilometer radius awake, but Pete was able to power through, no problem.

We had to delay our 6.30 a.m. departure by 36 minutes to wait for the sun to get out of bed, but more of that later.

It was bitterly cold on the bike first up, and I have added frost bitten fingers to my long list of things to worry about. Because he is my friend, Mark Johnson offered to pee on my fingers should they turn black. I told him that I am sure pee only works for jellyfish stings, but he is certain it also works for frost bite. If only Captains Scott and Oates had known.

I logged my highest heart rate of the Tour at 192 bpm when we disturbed 2 leopards enjoying the early morning sun next to the road. They were magnificent. And huge. Most animals look bigger when seen from a bicycle. We also saw huge kudu and huge warthog. We never saw any elephant, which was a pity. I’ve been excited to see elephant since we left Harare 2 weeks ago.

Elephant Sign

The Bwabwata National Park has several areas of human habitation within it. After 2 days, riding through the villages made a pleasant change to riding through the pristine bush.

We rode passed a man very gingerly carrying a very long and very dead snake on an even longer stick, with a posse of kids in close attendance. Because Al Watermeyer is a Watermeyer, we had to stop to check the snake out. I checked it out from a distance, because I’ve had a vine-snake play possum on me before.

This dead snake was a banded cobra, 4 inches longer than Al Watermeyer is tall, Al stands 6ft 1 in his socks. It was thicker than his forearm. Al was able to use the dead snake to make the kids scream with fear and then laughter.
Mark and Russell played football with a another bunch of kids on a dusty pitch. Mark captained one team and Russell the other. The match started as five-a-side football but ended as twenty- a-side. You couldn’t fit another kid on the pitch.

Russell’s team won 2-1 despite his lack of skill. He put the win down to superior tactics, while Mark blames his loss on the uneven bounce of a ball made from plastic bags tied together. As a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, Mark has a long litany of losing excuses. But I wouldn’t be surprised if those kids have posters of him on their bedroom walls instead of Beckham.

I was worried to see my first ever ox-drawn-sled, which is similar to an oxcart but with runners instead of wheels. Apparently sleds are more efficient in thick sand. Which is not what you want to hear when you are on two wheels with 1800 kilometers of Namibian sand and desert in front of you.

Thankfully we arrived in camp too late to watch New Zealand vs Ireland or Australia vs England. We have 3 Australians and a New Zealander plus me in the peloton.

But we were able to enjoy 60 minutes of the Springboks vs Wales gathered around Ryan’s laptop, until his data ran out. Even though I shouted loudly for Wales, they weren’t doing very well.

We enjoyed our second rest day at Riverdance. Most of the team enjoyed the perfect lazy day, apart from the fishermen among us. Al Crundall and Adam Selby who hunted out skinny worms to feed to the fish all morning, with zero return for their efforts.

Riverdance Lodge View

Mark Johnson and Pete Brodie preferred to not catch their fish on spinners.

We cleaned our bikes, because clean bikes are fast bikes, apart from mine. But mostly we sleep on rest days. After 6 days of riding, our legs are a tad tired, ditto the rest of our bodies.

Since arriving in camp I have been befuddled by international time lines, despite Al Watermeyer’s attempts to un-befuddle me. In that respect he says I remind him of his gardener. My watch and my cellphone are also befuddled.

As I type, my cellphone is reliably informing me that it is only 03.30, whereas according to my watch it is now 04.30. Either way, it is bloody dark outside with no sign of the sun. I think the sun is also befuddled.
Apparently according to Al, my cellphone is feeding off a cellphone tower across the river in Angola, where they run an hour behind time on West Africa time, whereas Namibia is on Central Africa Time, even though it is also west. It is all very befuddling.

To avoid starting in the dark, Adam has shifted our start time back by half an hour to 7 o’clock on my cellphone, which is still 6 o’clock on my watch. I so wish the earth was flat, with no hills.

We are riding from Harare to the Skeleton Coast to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. The generation that built our beautiful country have had everything they own reduced to nothing by 40 years of economic stupid. Their pensions are worth less than a dollar a day in real money, rendering them unable to afford rent, food or medical. Once proud, they are now forced to depend on your charity.

If you enjoy my blog, please help us help Zimbabwe’s pensioners by donating using one of the accounts listed below.

Until my next blog from a campsite 109 kilometers further west on dirt, have fun, do good, do epic – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong


PLEASE DONATE TO SUPPORT PENSIONERS STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE IN ZIMBABWE

Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lift the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

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