Brenda’s Best Baobab

Brenda’s Best Baobab is a gentle giant of a tree. Wider than several people and disappearing into the sky, surrounded by a deck for tables, the Baobab stands quietly.

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Upon crossing into Zambia we soon come across small shops catching attention with their delicious smells and fresh shiny fruit and vegetables. As predicted there are several banks in … but not one of them is working. “Maybe tomorrow” the locals tell me helpfully but tomorrow we’ll be miles away. I silently mourn the unattainable healthy fruit and vegetables available and decide, for the sake of team morale, not to mention that having cleared our stocks of food before crossing the border, we may be a little short for the next 5 days.

Unexpectedly, the Sesheke town rolls on and it is clear that we will not find a camping spot by nightfall, which is how we have found ourselves at Brenda’s Best Baobab, an immaculate looking campsite. But, with only 5 kwacha, we are hoping for Brenda’s generosity. Her encouraging staff usher me to her rich green lawn outside her house, where I stand scruffy, dirty and awkward.

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Looking for hippos in the Zambezi at Brenda’s Best Baobab

Brenda herself is very friendly and happy to offer us free accommodation as a donation to the success of our journey. Her belief in us is yet another reason I hope we raise more money. I would show you a photo of this lady who is both the kind of person you don’t mess with and successfully puts you at your ease. However, when she got up in the early morning to say goodbye she said she was underdressed and did not want any photos going up. A friend of hers had had a photo taken when she was nursing a baby and it ended up on the internet, with the mother, someone who is normally well dressed, feeling extremely embarrassed.

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Shower cubicle

Brenda kindly lets us use her kitchen and unimpressed by our dirty pots allows us to scrub the soot off the bottom of them. I also get to cook over a gas stove, I love cooking over a wood fire but a little variety and the easy cleanliness of gas makes for a nice change.

Emma is keen to get to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and have her very well earned 2 day break. She wants to start early whilst it is still dark but Brenda tells a story of a friend walking home at night from work, who was killed by an elephant. Emma agrees to wait until dawn.

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with love and thanks to Brenda and the two staff members in this photo

What others have to say about Brenda’s and contact details:

Open Africa
Lonely Planet
Bradt Guide

Tel: 0963 786882

Running in lion territory

This is a tense time. Local knowledge is invaluable and we have been warned that the area Emma is about to run through has lions in it. Mike is no longer on the bike beside Emma but inside the car.

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The car is beside Emma so that if a lion is spotted she can get in as swiftly as possible.

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Woocash is driving and I am on top with binoculars. I know from experience how incredibly difficult it is to spot a lion.

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Do you think you could spot a lion amongst this grass?

Staring at a strange looking burnt tree, I realise after a moment that it is an ostrich, stationery in the forest. It moves away as we get closer. Ostrich can be vicious when they want to be, lions aren’t the only animals to be wary of. Although of course in the excitement of seeing an ostrich, I forgot all of that and simply yelled “Ostrich, ostrich!” Everyone looked right and for a moment failed to keep look out left, which was the side Emma was on.

The strangest thing about this forest is how silent it is. There may have been lions in the grass watching us for all we know but we don’t spot them. We are wary when we stop to eat and rest but never see anything and we all make it safely through.

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It is an adventure but right at this moment Emma has run, on average, a marathon a day for 30 days. She is in a lot of pain and she is in danger from the wildlife. What kind of strength is required to achieve that distance, face that pain and danger and keep going?

However, the stress is too much for everyone and although Emma ran through dangerous game parks in her previous run along the Freedom Trail in South Africa with only her brother on a bicycle as support, we make a very good decision to turn left and run through Zambia instead of Botswana and the Chobe National Park, which is full of animals.

The only thing is that I have not prepared for us to cross into Zambia. I don’t know requirements for the border crossing at all. Lets hope its an easy one. This will be my first land crossing in Africa and my first with Cleopatra, the car.

*****

No of days: 30

Total distance run by Emma: 1,305 km, 811 miles

Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.5 km, 27 miles

 Distance run today: 56 km, 35 miles

Elephants!

“There is nothing beyond here, only the bush.”

The policeman, at the entrance to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, is laughing at me: I have just asked about shops.

This thin wedge of land between Botswana and Angola is renowned for lions, elephants, buffalo and wild dog. Every day is a risk assessment. It will take Emma several days to run through it and her safety is paramount. Lions and other carnivores chase moving objects. We will also be sleeping in our tent on the side of the road. Lions usually hunt when the heat of the day is over and during the night. We enter the area with caution, armed with knowledge from Charlie Paxton as to where along the way we are at risk from which animal. Initially, there are houses and people but these eventually stop and the stillness is eerie. We cannot see any animals at all.

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We aim to keep the car a few metres behind Emma and Mike. This annoys Emma, who hates the car being so close and noisy (it’s really noisy) and creates tension with Woocash who worries Cleopatra (the car) will overheat: stopping and starting is not good for her. I am sitting on top of Cleo with binoculars, wrapped up in clothes in the early morning, as it’s cold, and in the afternoon, as protection from the sun. It is wonderful to be out in the fresh air. The others seem unduly worried that I will fall off. But I have myself snuggled in well, with handholds planned in the event of sudden breaking or accelerating. In my turn, I am constantly checking out for buffalo (we are in the buffalo hunting area). I have a fearful vision of an angry buffalo or elephant charging out of the bush at Emma and Mike.

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Then, in the silent trees, we see a family of elephants. Well camouflaged, little ones, medium ones and a big mama. We are all delighted. Woocash utterly fails to follow the safety plan, to keep the car beside Emma and Mike, and picks up a camera whilst driving. We really need a cameraman for these moments. I would have loved to have taken a photo of Emma as she ran past this family munching quietly in the heat. But I was busy assessing safety. Luckily, Woocash did do some filming as I can show you this lovely film:

That night, as always, we are in the tents soon after dark. Whilst the rest of us slept, Emma heard an elephant snapping trees around us. The following day, Charlie calls to check that we are okay, nearby villagers had had to flee their homes in the night, as angry elephants damaged human property. As so often during this trip, I wonder if there is some stronger power keeping us safe. And if so, I wonder why.

We keep going, out of the elephant area and into an area, apparently, inhabited by lions.

*****

Have you had an encounter with elephants? Please feel welcome to tell your stories or thoughts in the comments below.

*****

As this is all in the same day as crossing the border, the distance travelled and day are the same as the previous post.

The lonely Hippopotamus and a real life hero

No, I am not talking about Mike and Emma. I am not sure how they would take that. Hippos are wonderful animals. I know they’re the biggest killers in Africa. But really? Above Puff Adders, Mosquitos and Humans? They get a bad press because they are easily scared and then bad things happen as they are trying to flee to safety or defend their territory. Also, if you are in a green canoe they might mistake you for a crocodile and break the boat in half. Crocodiles are their evil neighbours, sharing the same river and occasionally attacking adults or killing baby hippos. It’s no surprise then, if you look anything like a crocodile, they are going to freak out. Admittedly, some of the males are inclined to show off and can be aggressive. But, as long as the hippo is not scared of you or one of those alpha male types hippopotami are adorable. They lie around in mud and harumph. Check out the story of a family and their friendly hippo.

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Lunch stop

Andy from Samsitu Camp has set us up with places to stay all along the river. At each stop I am hoping to see a hippo.

A whole bed each!! I could have stayed there well into the morning. That and we were right on the river.
A whole bed each!! I could have stayed there well into the morning. That and Camp Ndurukoro is right on the river.

Frustratingly, we arrive after dark at Camp Ndurukoro and leave before dawn, so we don’t get to see any animals as Emma runs relentlessly onwards as she has to reach the Botswana border before her visa runs out.

Dawn
Dawn

At the last town on the way to the border, Divundu, the only fuel station is officially out of diesel and expect a delivery tomorrow. It is the first time a fuel station is empty and it would be when we really need to fill up. Woocash and I estimate, with careful driving, we could just get to the border and back. But we might be wrong. Luckily, the manager upon hearing our story, allows us to have what little they can spare. Which is really nice of him. And we sort it all out before Emma gets there.

Emma finishes early and we head south to Botswana. Finishing early always makes for a happy vibe. On the way, we camp at Ndhovu Safari Lodge and get to catch up with Ken, who is a bit of a hero. He defuses mines. Demining is incredibly dangerous as you probably know. But after a bomb exploded whilst Ken was working on it, the pain he had to go through made him even more determined to continue with this job and protect innocent people and animals from harm. A truly amazing person. Ken also got bitten by a poisonous snake that was sleeping under his desk, which he accidentally nudged with his foot. He still lives in that house.

At Ndhovu lives the lonely hippo. To my absolute joy, he makes an appearance tonight. He steadily munches grass through the camp, careless of the excited people and dogs around him. He’s an elderly hippo and gets attacked by other hippos. As a result, he took refuge where other hippos don’t go, in the human campsite. One time after a particularly bad fight, he headed into the campsite and put his head down on an old tyre round the back of the owner’s house. The owner’s dog took care of him, licking his wounds. And now they are good friends.

You can meet Chomp, the hippo, in this video. Ken tells Emma and I about Chomp. I particularly like the moments where Emma identifies with the hippo and Chomp considers a lifesize statue of a hippo.

Chomp continues eating grass on his way to his peaceful night’s rest. And we head back to bed.

Total distance run by Emma: 1099 kilometres, 683 miles

No of days: 26

Average daily distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 kms, 26.3 miles

And other animals

Having Katie join Emma in the morning is great. Anything to change the routine.

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Pretty (tough) in pink: Emma and Katie

It’s a long stretch of tarmac. 252 km from Grootfontein to Rundu, now another 197 km to Divundu and then 310 km to the border. It’s long and it’s a bit dull for Emma.

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That night we camp on the side of the road. Literally. All along the road there are rest stops, with a tree, a table and bench seats and a couple of big bins. Up until now, we have been very careful about camping out of sight but here, there are houses everywhere we go, and this place seems the most unpopulated. It makes for a noisy night, as lorries thunder past.

Emma is ill all day the next day and it’s very worrying. Stomach upsets in Africa are serious because it is easy to dehydrate in the heat and it takes too long to get to hospital. We are 100km from the nearest clinic. Emma continues to run when most people would be dithering between the bed or the toilet.

Bad horn day
Bad horn day
From left to right: Emma, me, curious friendly people sharing a bicycle (they take it in turns to peddle), Mike
From left to right: Emma, me, curious friendly people sharing a bicycle (they take it in turns to peddle), Mike

I call a contact Andy gave me, Charlie Paxton. On the phone, Charlie asks if we are sitting under a tree having lunch. Yes we are! We have been spotted. Charlie invites us to come and camp with them that evening at Shamvura, which, if you ever get a chance, is a delightful and unusual experience. Both Charlie and her husband Mark are extremely knowledgeable about the area and animals. They educate us on current conservation techniques and issues.

I wanted to share how stick like the stick insect is. Easy to miss.
I wanted to share how stick like the stick insect is. Easy to miss.

Charlie knows a huge variety of people and reminds me of my childhood hero Gerald Durrell (who wrote “My family and other animals”). Having told us wonderful stories about her pet vulture following and doing whatever she did, including sunbathing in the pool, Charlie invited us to have a look in their bedroom to meet their pet goat. I imagine a little cuddly goat. But no, this guy is as big as me. Startled by us, he almost jumps on the chicken that is calmly sitting on a trunk. The chicken doesn’t shift a feather. The one thing that struck me most was how clean and tidy the bedroom was. I am guessing you won’t believe me but honestly, it was a clean and tidy room. I failed to ask how you train a chicken and a goat not to poop in the house.

Goat

It’s a fairly eventful time at Shamvura. Woocash wakes me up in the middle of the night as he rushes out the tent, barefoot, to throw up. On the way, there are poisonous spiders, snakes, scorpions and thorns to step on. So, in sleepy befuddlement, I find his sandals and a torch and make my to the bathroom where he’s finished by the time I get there. I have no idea how he did it in the dark.

Anyone know if this is dangerous or merely cuddly?
Spiders in the dark. Anyone know if this is dangerous or merely fluffy?

Whilst trying to leave, before dawn, a friendly horse bothers us. He’s very curious about the tent and what we are doing packing things up. He seems a bit miffed when we push him out the way.

Then it’s through the darkness of the trees and back to the road.

Number of Days: 24

Total distance run by Emma: 998 kilometres, 620 miles

Average distance run, including rest days: 41.6 kilometres a day, 25.8 miles a day.

*****

For anyone considering staying at Shamvura, the campsite seemed great. We had a little corner to ourselves with good facilities.

Flies, Scorpions and Roy’s Camp

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Emma taking a break, make no mistake, this run is tough.

The hotter climate brings more bugs and animals. Slow moving flies with teeth: attracted to warm bodies, they settle down peacefully and then without warning they bite. “Argh f…!” It’s generally a suicidal move for the fly as we smack them down with satisfaction. According to natural selection theory, these guys shouldn’t exist, they are too slow.

5 days after leaving Africat we trundle into Roy’s Camp.

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Its shower time! Hooray! Clean flip flops and feet, (although, to be honest, we all seem to like not washing for 5 days and its better for our skin). Roy’s camp is an oasis with grass, a swimming pool, bar, a place for scrubbing pots and clothes, other tourists, wifi and electricity.

The lovely manager of Roy's Camp
At the Bar

Cameras, computers, and radios all get plugged in and I get cracking making dinner before Emma arrives:

Starter:
Sweetcorn
˜
Main Course:
Tuna and Tomato Pasta
˜
Dessert:
Eggy Bread with Syrup, Cinnamon and Banana

Eggs are good for runners, but Emma doesn’t like them so I’m trying out alternative ways of cooking them.

With clothes washed, team fed, and water containers filled, the wifi tempts. It’s in a quiet relaxing area under a tree. A friendly guy gives me some compliments and invites me for a drink at the bar … or his room. I’m easily flattered. But I am married to our cause (of course) and, er, in a relationship and instead stay up until 2am trying, with frustrating, occasional success, to upload photographs to the blog.

At some point the lights all go out and the people are silent in their tents and cabins. There are frogs rustling in the leaves around my chair. Snakes prey on frogs. In the distance, a yowling sound, possibly baboons or wild dogs. Antelope run silently through the camp. Not wanting to be eaten, stung or bitten without anyone knowing, I head back to our tent in the pitch black and only find our site because the bike has reflectors on it.

The next morning the alarm doesn’t go off which is bad for Emma – it means she’ll be running in the hottest part of the day and we’re getting nearer the equator.

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Woocash has foolishly left his clothes drying on a rocky wall. As he lifts his underpants he discovers this little thing snuggled under them,

The smaller the scorpion the more deadly
Can anyone name the species?

Luckily for him it didn’t crawl into them …

Days 17
Distance run by Emma: 696 km, 433 miles

The adventure travel show weekend

This is the first time I’ve really hung out with Emma and its great to discover she is one of the nicest people you can meet and she has as daft a sense of humour as me.

En route with enough stuff to last us 3 months
En route with enough stuff to last us 3 months

On Friday, we fitted in an 8 mile run round Richmond park in the dark.

Angelic Emma
Angelic Emma
Bouncy Emma
Bouncy Emma

It was peaceful and companionable. When the deer start to run across the road in front of us, we decided if a stag attacked us, we’d use the bicycle as a shield and hoped it wouldn’t wander off with the bike hooked on its antlers.

Deer in the dark
Deer in the dark
Zombie Emma
Zombie Emma
cold Emma, time for shower and dinner
cold Emma, time for shower and dinner

********

The adventure travel show, on Saturday and Sunday, was loads of fun. We met lots of experts in their field, passionate about their countries and jobs and technological developments. It’s a travel geek’s heaven. I’ll go into detail in later posts but inspired by the VBA I decided to give out awards:

Most supportive people award goes to Travel Africa. One of my favourite memories was walking up to the Travel Africa stall and the lady on the stall totally jumping on the story, wanting Emma to write an article and maybe some updates, and then they were incredibly helpful with advice and encouragement.

The most helpful person: frustratingly, we missed Doug McDonald’s presentation on Zimbabwe as the room was packed, so we went back the next day to speak to him. Doug, who runs a safari business, talked us through everything: which roads would be driveable; where we could camp; who we need to get permission from; and where wildlife will be a danger – in areas where elephants are hunted and shot, the elephants become fearful and will either run away or charge and kill us. When Doug said he would liaise with officials to get permission to go through certain areas, I nearly hugged him. And he had advice on how we might work with schools along the way.

Most eco-friendly product: Incognito – developed by a biochemist. It has every eco award going and it is clinically proven to be effective at deterring mosquitoes. We shall test it against midges in the summer before we go.

Most useful local titbit: goes to Drive Botswana for knowing that a particular side road in Zimbabwe is very rocky, we will get at least two punctures and its almost impossible to rescue a car if it needs towing out.

Best banter goes to Travel Pharm
Best banter goes to Travel Pharm

Most interesting stall that had nothing to do with us: Pangaea Exploration. These guys work in marine conservation, documenting levels of plastic in the ocean. They take volunteers if you are interested.

Most freaky piece of information: came from Charlie McGrath, from Objective Travel Safety, who told us to watch out when we pack up our tents in the morning, as snakes will slide under the ground sheet to curl up beside you for your body warmth. I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe him, but my aunt tells me that my grandfather (or somebody like that) woke up to find a cobra wrapped round his feet. I can’t imagine the fear that will shoot through me if I wake up to find a snake cuddled up with me and really hope I don’t find out.

Most encouraging talk: Leon McCarron, for a talk that was honest about the mistakes they made, which made me feel a lot better about the mistakes I will make and have made. It’s all part of the adventure. I liked his comment, “once you relinquish control, that’s where it gets really exciting.”

At the Globetrotters Club who have already asked Emma for a talk on her return - now that's belief in us.
At the Globetrotters Club, which has already asked Emma for a talk on her return – now that’s belief in us!

********

Here they are
Here they are

Then Monday morning we were up and off to Hills Balfour for a meeting with their PR team and Namibia experts. They were great. Providing us with advice and information and offering to put us in contact with the relevant people. Most of all though, it gave me the idea that I would love to make a little computer game of Emma running across africa, jumping over crocodiles and heading down dead ends. If anyone knows how to do this that would be amazing.

Afterwards, we popped into the Zimbabwe tourist board but they had gone to lunch so happily it was time to go home:

Sleepy Emma (a rare find)
Sleepy Emma (a rare find)

A special thank you has to go to my lovely sister-in-law for letting us dump our stuff and shower after the run, Black and Blue waterloo for delicious free food, wine and cocktails (definitely recommend them), Emma and Ross for having us to stay in their living room and cooking us a delicious roast dinner, and my nieces and nephew for hugs and love.

Total cost: including train tickets, bus and tube travel, food, show entry and accommodation (free), approximately £120 each!