After 9 days of continuous riding we’ve arrived in Francistown. Francistown is the second largest city in Botswana and is a bustling metropolis compared to terrain of the last 3 weeks. We’ve now covered over 1,000km and a lot has changed since leaving South Africa.
The South Africa we saw from our bikes was one of two very different realities. On the one hand were the vast expanses of farmland, regularly interrupted by the electrified fences of game parks, national parks and conservation areas. Somewhere squashed in the middle of this were the cramped townships somehow coexisting in the same country but in a very different universe.
Botswana feels entirely different.
Trucks lined both sides of the road for miles before the border crossing. Their cargo visible and for once not rattling past us in a blur of fumes and noise. Tarred tree trunks piled up in the cargo bays to be used as telegraph polls, truckers cooking up their lunch and every onlooker having something to say about us as we whizzed by, excited for the next chapter.
The roadside in Botswana is flat, straight and teeming with life. It’s a social scene fit for any sitcom. Goats, cows, donkeys, families and groups of children dominate the road close to the villages.
There’s a sense of national pride amongst Botswanians that is rivalled only by our compatriots in the USA. The blue, black and white of Botswana adorn the bus shelters, bus stops, bollards and community centres of every town and village.
Our sleeping arrangements on our first night in Botswana were sorted out through some incredible generosity.
It was pouring with rain, our clothes were sodden and we’d just rolled into a small village called Lerala. Low on money and desperate not to spend another night in tents we decided it was time to try our luck with the local hospitality and go through the tribal hierarchy for a place to stay.
We asked the first person we came across if he could point us in the direction of the chief of the village. We followed him over to a white washed house with several columns (which we’ve noticed seem to denote prestige everywhere we’ve been). Unfortunately the chief wasn’t about but after a lengthy conversation with him on the phone we had his blessing to seek further approval from the ‘head-man’ of this particular area of the village.
20 minutes later and another phone call down the line, our man disappeared off to the head-man’s house to continue proceedings.
The fact that he’d put his whole day on hold for us is just not something that I envisage happening at home.
Another half an hour later and with a new friend in the form of an interested passer by (the vice principal of the local school - Mr Rahthdkwnake), we got a call saying that two of us should come to the house and speak to the head-man in person. Charlie and I hastily volunteered ourselves and we jumped into the back of his car nervous and unsure of how we should behave in such a setting.
Arriving at the head-man’s house we were told to wait in the car. Mr Rahthdkwnake strolled over to a small gazebo supported by tree trunks with a thatched roof on top. A fire was burning in the middle and a handful of children and three women sat around chatting and attending the pots.
A while later we were beckoned out of the car and introduced to the family. We were told the chief would see us soon.
Minutes or hours later, who knows at this stage, a man emerged from the main house. There was no mistaking his identity. The Head Man. He was dressed in a brown corduroy jacket, black shirt, fluorescent yellow gardening gloves, high vis construction worker trousers and hiking boots. Quite a look.
He shook both our hands for a prolonged period of time (apparently a sign of trust and friendship) and spoke to us in Seswana. After some more chat between him and Mr Rahthdkwnake we all drove back to where Theo and Wadi were waiting.
The Head Man gathered us around and began speaking with a soft tone; the teacher translating his words.
‘Welcome to our country of Botswana.’
‘May God bless you on your journey to Nairobi. ‘
‘You have arrived and blessed us with rain. You are welcome to sleep in the school tonight.’
It was a very special moment and one that shows the incredible generosity of all the people we’ve come across in South Africa and Botswana.
The willingness of all of these people to take time out of their days to help four weary travellers was something really quite special. This sense of generosity and willingness to help others has been the convention rather than the exception to the rule on this trip.
Botswana has been great it lots of other ways.
Three days ago was a personal highlight for me. Walking down a sleepy street, in our matching Craghoppers shorts and puffa jackets (orange, blue and black -really quite trendy), a guy stopped his car in the middle of the road to inform us of our impeccable style. He concluded this small cameo in our lives with an invitation to his brother’s wedding on Saturday. We regretfully declined the invitation, purely because we’ll be back in the saddle somewhere on the road to Kasane.
A couple hundred metres further down the road, after we’d said our farewells, another lad popped his head out of his garden to be met by the sensorial overload of our technicoloured garb. His reaction was to burst into hysterics for about 5 minutes as he followed us down the road at a safe viewing distance of 200 metres.
Continuing on this theme of unorthodox social interactions, none was more so than our first port of call upon arrival in Botswana. The petrol station. They’re strange places at the best of times whether you’re in Slough or Martin’s Drift, Botswnna. You get a wildly eclectic bunch of people none more so than 4 odd balls appearing on bicycles with enough kit to start a small hippy commune.
Anyway, we rolled out of this petrol station an hour later having met an Irish bloke from Wicklow (the most direct and nonchalant character you’ll ever meet), and a marriage proposal directed at me from a lovely lady by the name of Harry. Hope you’re not reading this Dad, as the dowry is really quite steep. Give me a call if you want to talk shop and I can put you in touch with her people.
One thing we’re all wondering is when will people be more gobsmacked by where we’ve come from i.e. Jo Burg than where we’re going (Nairobi). Something tells me we’ve got quite a while to go...