I immediately make friends with the Botswana. They are wonderfully friendly and hospital, rather a bit reserved. I keep following the river, now with some distance. Actually this would be great for bush camping here: few people and plenty of good opportunities. But that is something I told myself not to do here. Botswana might have quite some game parks but in reality the whole of Botswana IS one huge game park itself. There are so many animals here, that you can see elephants and other big game from the main road.
The rides during the day are rather dull. Hundreds of kilometers of flat bushland. But the evenings are all the more entertaining. In the village where I want to spend the night today I ask where I could do that at the bus stop. Soon I meet the chief of this village. He invites me to his home where I can put up my tent next to the huts and tells me that the elephants are a serious problem here, because they often damage the fields. Next evening I ask at a police post if I could put up my tent there, whereupon the police chief assigns me and empty office for the night.
The Okavango, the river that I have been following for quite some time now, is a very special river, because it actually flows inland. Here in the middle of the Kalahari it seeps in a huge river delta with countless side arms: the Okavango Delta - a paradise for all sorts of animals.
With Alex, a local guide I go exploring the region in the next days. With a Mokoro (a canoe) we go to the center of the delta. With a long stick Alex guides the Mokoro expertly through the narrow channels. Almost soundlessly we glide through an endless sea of water lilies and reef where I can spot I incredible variety of birds: kingfisher, sea eagle, stork and many more. On the river bank we set up our camp. In the early morning and late evening we go for walks in the bush in search of animals.
A safari on foot is immensely more intense then one with a vehicle. While we walk through the bush there is the constant tension what lies behind that next tree. Soon we see fresh tracks of a lion. Just last week he had seen 5 lions right here, Alex tells me. OK, but what should I do if I suddenly stand face to face with a lion? Just stand still and look him deep in the eyes, he tells me. Uhu. I won't be able to use that tactic as the tracks is all we will get to see today. After a good hour of walking a big herd of giraffes out of nowhere suddenly stands in front of us. It is one of those magic moments that I will not forget for the rest of my life as these 15 giraffes in their full majestic size stand only meters away from my. Despite their enormous height they move unbelievably elegant and seem to be at least as fascinated about me as I am about them, the way they stare at me. I feel like in another world and could watch the animals for hours.
A short walk further on, an elephant suddenly appears from behind a bush. A truly impressive and respect-inspiring experience if you stand right in front of a full size bull elephant. Later we can also see big herds of wildbeest, warthogs, hippos, zebras and baboons.
The route for the next stage is quite simple to explain: 300km to the east and then 300km to the north, always flat always dead straight through bushland. But it is by no way as boring as this description may sound. The second part to the north is also called the 'Elephant Highway' and it more then lives up to its name. It is an absolute unique experience. Where else on this planet can you still cycle amongst herds of wild elephants? I don't have to wait for long to see the first elephant right next to the road! In the early morning I can see huge herds of zebras. They don't seem to be used to see cyclists though. Whenever I turn up, the whole herd goes panic. Lions, of which there are also quite some here, as the locals always confirm, fortunately I don't see. Nevertheless I ride three days with a slightly higher adrenalin level…
While the border officials issue my visa for Zimbabwe, they start listing all the animals that there are along the next 70km through a park (all big 5). I should better cycle fast and not stop is along this road… and how I do so.
Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders, is what the locals call the Victoria Falls, a very suitable description. Over a width of 1.7 km the water falls with a loud thunder 110 m deep into a gorge. Now, right after the raining season there is so much water, that you hardly see anything because of all the spray. But the sheer forces that are released here are truly enormous. Over a spectacular bridge right in front of the falls I already cross into the next country after only two days in Zimbabwe: Zambia.