I saw elephants on the road out of Zimbabwe. They saw me too. First it was the back end of one, and metres later the front end of another. They were only 10-15 metres away, munching away where the edge of the bush met the roadside fire-break. I wouldn’t have seen them in a car, and it was only at the last second as I turned to make eye contact and receive a startled ear flap did I suddenly think “Shit”.

Well I had been warned. There was plenty of fresh poop on the road and the folk from Vic Falls had told me to be vigilant.

Seen from a distance and within the safety of a vehicle, elephants appear prehistorically majestic and peaceful. Up front without warning they are massive and scary.

It was probably a good thing then that when I continued into Botswana and arrived at the gate of Chobe National Park the following morning, the security guard yelled at me to stop. The main road that connects Zimbabwe with Botswana and continues onto the Ngombe bridge border with Namibia some 70km later cuts through the northern stretch of this wildlife rich wilderness.

At first I was a bit annoyed, and probably would have stayed that way had I seen nothing from the pick-up I was asked to load my bike into the back of. Instead I soon lost count of the number of elephants crossing the road, not just in their twos and threes, but herds of one or two dozen. Now that would have been scary alone on the bike. No lions mind you.

And that was the end of Botswana. One night camping in the popular Chobe Safari Lodge and then several hours in the morning before I was receiving an exit stamp and entering Namibia. In total I cycled some 20km in Botswana.

It will be considerably more here in Namibia. The World’s second least populated country (Mongolia is the first I think?) contains just over 2 million people and has a lot of long distances between places.

I biked the first 70km in less than 3 hours. It was Saturday, I needed to change money and the banks close at midday. It didn’t make any difference “These notes are old”, said the Standard Chartered clerk holding up a moderately grubby $5 bill, “and we’re not buying small notes”. In Malawi they would have salivated at the sight of US$, be they big or small in denomination, clean or mildly grubby. Here in Namibia it seems not.

Fortunately another foreign cyclist bought some off me in exchange for South African Rand (used here in Namibia as well as the Namibian $, which is tied to it).

Shane and I have been in contact for some months now. In November last year he flew to Cape Town with his bicycle, and is cycling in a roughly opposite route direction from me back to the UK.

“This town is about the most African feeling place I’ve been to”, was one of the first remarks he made about Katima Muillo, where we had agreed to meet. Well other than the sand encroaching on the roads, for me it felt like one of the most western. Large supermarkets, service stations with enormous forecourts and what appeared to be a lot of Chinese-run shops dominated this riverside town.

What the town lacked in character though the campsite setting and company easily made up for. Shane had already been lazing on the banks of the Zambezi all week, and would spend another 4 nights there when I arrived.

One thing I’ve missed cycling alone in Africa is a drinking partner – someone to share a cold beer with at the end of a day of cycling, and who enjoys the real atmosphere of Africa away from the western comforts of backpacker hostels and tourist lodges. Shane easily fitted the bill, and as he planned his route north into rural Zambia I pondered for more than a brief moment during those blissful several days of drinking and barbecuing what it would be like to turn back around and join him. Why not? Zimbabwe, with its prices and history of southern African influenced segregation has already given me a feeling for what I imagine aspects of life in Namibia and South Africa to be like. Or perhaps I’m just sad that his real adventure is just starting and mine is coming towards its end? I’ll be keenly following his progress as he slowly heads north.

For me the road out of Katima Muillo led in one direction – west, a long, straight, flat and largely featureless ride of 500+km through the Caprivi Strip. Geographically this looks like an exciting part of the country – wedged as it is like a dagger between Botswana to the South and Angola to the north. On a level of mental stimulation when seen over 4 longish days from the saddle of a bike it’s hard-going. Highlights include a couple of elephant crossings, some beautiful cloud formations, wild camping made so easy by lack of people that I could almost have done it blind-folded, and a wonderful tailwind. Long may the latter continue throughout the rest of this country. I have 470km separating me from Oshikati to the west of here, and then it’s on into Himba country– land of the scantily dressed.