Feeling like Bambi

28 Sep

“You going by bicycle?” asked the serious immigration lady on the Botswana Zimbabwe boarder at the start of the Zambezi national park.

“Yup.” I answered.

She looked at me as though I was stupid and said “That’s a bad idea”.

Then the lady beside her chimed in “there are lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalo, elephant, hyenas and jackals in the park”. I didn’t know what a jackal was but assumed it was more dangerous than an angry sheep.

Another uniform official came up to the ladies, they told him that I was planning to cycle through the park to which he stated “You’ll become a statistic”.

Umm, now I was feeling very nervous. All I wanted was a positive second opinion. I needed a Dan or a big burly short shorts wearing Afrikaans man to say “ya, cycle, enjoy”

Wondering if I should ask the kiwi couple I had just met if I could put my bike on their roof, I cycled up to the entrance into Zimbabwe. This also represented the start of the Zambezi national park.

Unfortunately my positive second opinion was not going to come from the young guy on the boom gate. As I approached he was in fits of laughter, slapping his leg and getting the attention of all the other fellas lazing around in the morning shade of the shacks.

“You going to cycle through the park, HA HA HA HA”. It seemed that the white guy on the bike about to cycle the 70 km through the park was one of the funniest things he had seen. He obviously hadn’t seen the Australians loose to Ireland in the rugby!

He let me through and I pulled off to the side of the road to get a photo of my bike under the ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ sign.

At this point I was still in two minds, it wasn’t too late to hitch a ride through. Another smiling local came up to me in that friendly Zimbabwean way and started talking to me. He asked me my plan. I told him I was headed for Victoria Falls and asked him if it was a stupid idea to cycle through.

He answered, “I haven’t heard of anyone being attacked on a bicycle”

Perfect, that was the answer I was wanting. I should have left it at that, but then asked

“So people cycle through the park”

He bursted out laughing, “HA HA, no one cycle through the park!”

When my optimistic friend left me I was tossing up what to do. I then looked at my watch. It was 8.45am. I thought to myself, what would I rather be doing right now, about to sit down at my desk in front of my computer for the 9 to 5 grind or cycling 70km through a national park in the middle of Southern Africa.

It was a no brainer, I hopped on my bike. At first I pedalled timidly not fully committing to it knowing that I was still able to turn around. 2km into the park I was past the point of no return and pumped on the pedals.

Every bird that took flight made me jump, every breath of wind made me spin my head. I was tense.

I reasoned with myself that at least the heat of the day would mean the animals wouldn’t be so active. If I came across a lion under a tree I would hope it would just look at me and think that it was too hot and I too skinny to bother giving chase. I also thought to myself that a chance of a lion attack is very low as long as I don’t see one. Unfortunately I couldn’t ride with my eyes closed.

The thing that made it even more nerve racking was the lion coloured metre high grass that came right up to the road side, perfect camouflage for preying lion – I’m not talking about church going lions either (umm maybe my spelling is off there and that joke doesn’t work). Three metres after the lion coloured grass was 4 metre high bush, perfect for disguising elephants. It’s quite unbelievable how hard it is to spot something as big as an elephant until you are pedalling right beside it.

The most intense moments were when my peripheral would see a flash of lion coloured fur. My heart would miss a beat, then it would calm down once I saw that it was only one of those bambi like creatures (sorry to all those wild life gurus but all the abundant African wildlife; kudu, gazelles, antelope, sable, impalas, waterbuck come under the bambi banner for me, big bambi, bambi with curly horns, bouncing bambi etc).

I couldn’t help but think as I cycled along the road that parted the metre high lion coloured grass that I felt like bambi. These creatures live their entire life under the constant threat of being eaten, like a chicken hanging out at KFC. Every rustle in the bush could be the end of their four legged existence. It’s surprising there isn’t greater drug use amongst the population.

I took small comfort in the fact that at least if a tourist bus came across a lion attacking me on the side of the road they wouldn’t be ohing and ahhing and uploading videos of it on to youtube. Where as if I was a little bambi they would be praising the lord for giving them every safari tourists prized viewing, that of a lion kill.

Through the park the only dangerous animals I encountered were an elephant with two calves and a handful of buffalo, both of which I passed within 20 metres of. The buffalo I didn’t even see until I was right by them, thankful that took off in the other direction. The elephant with the young calves I spotted and waited to move, but after 15 minutes I decided to go on the other side of the road and keep an eye on them watching for any signs of it growing agitated. Once past I proceeded to put as much distance as possible between us. I also spotted and heard 100 possible lions.

After covering the fastest 70kms of my life on a bike (not that hard as I have only done that a handful of times) I arrived in the town of Victoria Falls making it a total of 84kms for the day. The only time I stopped was for tomato sandwiches. When I came flying down the hill into the town with a sense of achievement I heard cheering, then a “go kiwi”. I looked back and it was the kiwi couples I had met at the boarder that morning. It must sound so incredibly cheesy, but it felt good, nearly as good as those cold Zambezi lagers I had at the hostel happy hour that night.

Just another day of working the world.


10 Responses to “Feeling like Bambi”

  1. Geoff September 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    A “no brainer” should read ” Haps got no brain”!!

    “It’s surprising there isn’t greater drug use amongst the population”……… Well there is………
    your mother and I have just become drug users after reading this blog!

    From now on replace “no brainer” with “engage brain”….engage brain, engage brain, engage brain…..


    • Hap October 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

      All is good Geoffrey, I’m in Zambia, on the main road all the way to Malawi now.

      NBL hap

    • barney October 4, 2011 at 3:15 am #

      Hahahaha! Engage brain! Love it.

  2. Pauline September 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    So glad you made it through…I must say I have to agree with your Dad! Somebody is watching over you!

  3. Rob Thomson September 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Most fear is irrational. When it comes down to it, you’re probably more likely to be killed on your way to work in a car in Auckland than cycling on a deserted road through a park full of wildlife (the vast majority of which is entirely harmless).

    I think you made the rational decision, Hap.

    • Hap October 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

      Like your work Rob. I wish I had met you on the border post.

      Have thought of you a few times whilst on the road. I have even more respect for what you achieved. Its defintely an experienced traveling human powered by oneself, challenging, that;’s what i enjoy, the challenge of it all.

      Bloody amazing what you did.


      NBL Hap

  4. Sich September 29, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Brilliant stuff mate, Africa will make a novelist of you yet.

    • Hap October 3, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

      Hey mate,

      In Zambia, first time had power or internet in 10 days, only one pair of bike shorts as well. Staying with Parrs tomorrow for 5 days, will get some good footage of Trev in the hospital and HIV knowledge. We heading to South Luanga National park for 3 days, wicked as park, should get some good animal footage, i’m hoping Cats.

      OK mate, hope you well.

      nBL hap

  5. shofars October 24, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Really enjoy to read your content,How I envy. And I learned many new things thanks


  1. A photographic celebration of the final continent cycle – part 1 Zimbabwe « Hap Working The World - December 20, 2011

    […] Entering Zimbabwe from Botswana. This was the place where I was about to enter a game reserve. Everybody telling me I would be killed if I rode through it. But with anything you weigh up the risks, it is a game reserve, but it’s not a famous one like neighbouring Chobe that has a reputation of having a high density of animals. I was going to ride the 70km game park at midday when animal activity was at its lowest and it’s a big reserve, so you would be unlucky to come across something that wanted to eat you. Although when talking with the locals they told me that it was home to all the same animals that can kill you as everywhre else. Then speaking with an overland truck driver that night I told how he had seen a lion kill whilst driving the same road. All I know is that it was the fastest 70km’s I cycled of the whole trip. The only dangerous animals I came close to were elephants and buffalo (It’s surpirsing how something so big can be hidden until you’re right upon it. Check out my blog post of cycling that 70kms. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: