Botswana: Monotonously

I got up and continued my generally eastward cycle. I passed a vet check point and stocked up on water. A dog barked at me while I was there – that’s the worst interaction I’ve had with a dog in the whole of Africa. It’s been nice not to have them chasing me here.

The headwind picked up as the morning went on. The day was generally uneventful, spinning the pedals as I made slow progress into the wind. Going slow is boring, and it makes me more likely to end up stopping and taking breaks. That doesn’t help me go any faster!

I passed through just one village that day, Mmashoro. I cycled across the football to get to the village’s understocked general store, where I bought some biscuits and filled up my water from the tap. Then I cycled on for another hour or so before turning down a sandy track and setting up camp in the bush.

Up again in the morning and off I went, riding east into the headwind. I reached the village of Paje, where the road turned south. After sorting out a puncture, I rode on south, cycling more quickly for an hour or so, to the town of Serowe. This had a big Spar supermarket, where I stopped for lunch.

While I was sitting outside eating my food, a woman came up to ask if she could take a photo of the bike. She was impressed how dirty it was and correctly guessed I’d come through the pans.

From Serowe it was back to riding east, and back to riding into the headwind. My muddy bike clearly wasn’t holding me back too much, as a woman stopped to hit on me. Apparently she’d overtaken me earlier in the day and decided to stop and ask for my number if I was still riding when she came back. Interestingly, one of the first questions she asked was if I’m vaccinated.

I rode on and, at the town of Palapye, finally joined the A1 and started the long southwest ride. I had a tailwind for a little while, before it settled into being mostly a crosswind. Some people stopped to ask where I was going, and if they could have a photo with me. Seemingly I was very popular today!

When I had the tailwind I started to feel a bit warm; I’d got used to the breeze! I stopped to rest in the shade and yet more people stopped, to check that I was OK. I was fine, and soon continued on to ride this long, straight road through the empty Botswana bush.

Late in the day I was approaching the town of Mahalapye. I stopped a bit earlier than I otherwise might have, so that I would not be in the town as it was getting dark. As was becoming a habit, I waited for a sandy track to provide a gap in the fence, then went and set up camp.

I woke up a bit later than usual, and set out on yet another flat day’s ride. I was slightly surprised to see a sign saying I was crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. I knew it was in southern Botswana but hadn’t got around to checking the exact location.

Signs were about all of interest I saw today. Botswana has a population of 2.3 million – about 1/30 of the UK’s. It’s area, meanwhile, is more than double that of the UK. That makes for a lot of empty space.

A good goal
Apparently a long way from success
Botswana really struggles with the word layby

I took a break at a supermarket, in a village I passed along the way. They were offering a “combo deal” for about 25kg of food. It’s an interesting insight into the local diet, but a bit much to carry on the bike!

Spekko is rice, White Star is pap (maize meal, basically corn-based porridge)

As usual, when the sun was low in the sky I found a spot in the bush to set up the tent, slept, and continued on. About two hours into the day, I reached Gaborone, Botswana’s capital.

I found it interesting to look at the various adverts as I rode into the city. There were a few of the normal peculiarities – things like fashion brands with billboards featuring white models. There were also various billboards for AIDS-relates charities (about one in four people in Botswana have HIV). One such listed three goals. One was to end AIDS, which seemed appropriate. The other two were to end pandemics and to end inequalities, which seems ambitious. A later billboard by the same group encouraged women to practice abstinence “to avoid stigma and discrimination.”

I stopped at a mall on the edge of the city. There was a bike shop there which was quite nice but expensive, so I decided to wait until South Africa where there would be more options (and Decathlon!).

I took a road that wasn’t quite a bypass but also didn’t go through the city center. There was no shoulder, but two lanes, wide enough that two vehicles could still go past me easily – though it was quiet enough that there was rarely a need. Still, a couple of people angrily gestured that I should go on a nearby footpath. As one of these people was gesturing at me, this footpath went over a couple drainage channels. It would’ve been alright stepping over a 50cm gap on foot, but it’s not exactly suitable for a bike. I just smiled and waved at him, and he started gesturing more fiercely, seemingly annoyed at the idea that I might have misinterpreted him as being friendly.

I rode out of the city and after about 10km, stopped at a campsite. It labelled itself as a backpackers place and had all the typical quotes on the walls. One list of instructions from the boss to the employees included the admonition to “always be hungry, never relax.” Thankfully they did not seem to follow this rather strict instruction, as the staff were eating when I arrived and only two of the ten or so items on the “2020 to do list” were crossed off.

They had an enormous pig

After an afternoon of rest (and then a night’s sleep) I rode on. The road was quite busy, and initially had two lanes in each direction, as well as a wide shoulder. Most people were going the other way, commuting into the capital.

After a while the road narrowed, but the traffic did not lesson much. The shoulder was rather bumpy chipseal but with this much traffic I did not want to ride in the road.

Just trust me, there was usually traffic!

I reached the town of Lobatse, made my usual supermarket stop, and then turned toward the border. I had not been able to find much information about this border online. Most cyclists cross from Botswana to Namibia, and then to South Africa. At that entrance to South Africa, there are rapid tests available at the border. The same is true coming from Eswatini and Lesotho, so I decided to try my luck.

I got to the border and was quickly stamped out of Botswana. Unfortunately, when I got to the South African side they wanted a PCR test and said there is no testing at the border. I knew there was a chance of this, so I turned around and went back. I tried to have my Botswanan exit stamp cancelled but they just gave me a new visa, which was fine by me.

I returned to Lobatse and had my PCR sample taken at a clinic, then went to a campsite. I received an email in the evening confirming my negative result, though I’d have to go back in the morning to collect the hard copy. There was some thunder and lightning so I set up my tent under cover.

I even had a moat!

Feb 13: 124 km

Feb 14: 151 km

Feb 15: 156 km

Feb 16: 67 km

Feb 17: 80 km

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