It doesn’t take more than a couple minutes of highway time to shake the desire of being stuck I felt in Livingstone. There really isn’t anything quite like having a massive highway to yourself and feeling the cool breeze of the world floating by your ears. Of course, it’s even more dramatic when surrounded by tall brush in which lions, hyenas, and god knows what else could be hiding.
To be honest, it takes a little bit of courage to get on my scooter each time. It scares me a little. What if a tire pops on me? What if I get cut off and crash again? What if this is the last time I get on a motorcycle? But within mere seconds of driving, all fears wash away and a sense of peace carries me.
On this 3 day ride, I’m crossing the Caprivi Strip. Under-visited, the Caprivi Strip is a long tongue of land that belongs to Namibia that forms a buffer between Zambia, Botswana and Angola. A highway slides down the center of the strip, and doesn’t fashion even the slightest bend as it does. For many, this type of driving would put them to sleep. For me, it sets me into a trance of self-reflection and brain-storming. These are the moments in Africa I’ve cherished the most. These moments have often been emotional. Sometimes they break me down. Other times, I find myself telling jokes to the air and laughing hysterically as I ride. I usually sing to myself. I’ll never forget the time I was signing a Bob Marley song through a small village in Ghana completely zoned out to the thought that my visor was open and the whole town could hear. A teenager at the side of the road started singing along “Buffalo Soldier… in the heart of Americaaaaa.”
Through all the incredible sights, amazing destinations, and wonderful people I’ve met in Africa, it’s going to be these rides that I remember the most.
I spend my first night alone at a Caprivi River Lodge sat on the banks of the Zambezi River. I sit on a balcony with the river below me, hippos calling on the other side of shore, crocodiles swimming through the submerged trees, and a troop of clever vervet monkeys dancing through the trees. Through candle light, I sit alone laughing at the antics of nature and at peace by myself. After struggling so bad with loneliness through much of my ride down Africa, I’m glad to be alone tonight. I’m at peace with myself and the world around it. I’m at peace with my life and what it has become.
At dawn, I saddle up Anne Murray and take on the heart of the Caprivi Strip. The trip can again only be characterized by one word: peace. This place wasn’t always so peaceful though. Through the heart of the 1990s, the Caprivi Strip was engulfed in civil conflict. Some claim it was a fight for independence, others say it was the result of side-taking during the war in nearby Congo, and others say it was a long overdue carryover from the Angolan war and the seeds of socialism left by the likes of Che Guevera. What is clear is that those feelings, if still present, are tucked well below the surface of local life on the Caprivi Strip. I can’t imagine how this was a place of conflict once, as every one I pass tosses a giant smile and waves in jubilation. Tourism, it seems, has taken hold of the region and people now fight for the attention of passing 4x4s, tour buses, and crazy white men on scooters.
While driving through Bwabwata National Park, I see a heard of elephants browsing through the shrubs in the distance. I stop, pull out my camera gear and photograph the scene in awe. As I pack up my equipment, I hear shuffling behind me. I twist my head to see a large male elephant walking briskly towards me. I race to my scooter and jump on. I’ve left her running just in case something were to come up; elephants, zebra, antelope and even lions that can be found along the strip. I twist the throttle and toss my head over my shoulder to see the big elephant is now chasing me down the highway at full speed. I’ve learned a couple things today. My scooter can outrun a male elephant – though just barely- and it’s incredibly uncomfortable driving a scooter with a pair of pants full of poo. I drive off again laughing hysterically. Oh, the adventures I have. I wonder what it would be like to have a partner in these adventures, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure I’d have them if I had a partner.
By the time my trip across the Caprivi is complete, I find myself lounging over the Okavango River with a beer in my hand. Although I’m surrounded by hippos chirping and elephants calling from across the river, again I’m alone. However, unlike the heart of West and Central Africa, it doesn’t feel as dire this time. It doesn’t feel as desperate. Maybe I needed the comfort up there and down here I don’t. Maybe, like most things in life, time alone is something you need in moderation. Or maybe I learned something in the trenches of the heart of Africa. You’re never alone. The thoughts from family and friends will always carry you no matter how alone, and how far from them you may be. And at the end of the day, if you can be at peace with the person you are, then you’ll always find solace.
I’m 2,500 kms from Cape Town and have a month to get there. The journey is almost over, but the emotions that the ride coming to an end are only starting.
I leave the hip confines of Ngepi Camp and ride off towards the heartlands of Namibia. A tear rolls from my eye to my cheek as I think about the end. How will I react when I see that “Welcome to Cape Town” sign? How will I react when the shoes of the plane lift me from this continent. I’ve grown to love and hate this continent. I’ve left so much of myself here and gained so much from it. I’ve laughed and I’ve been brought to my knees. Life here has been tense and it has been joyful. The truth is, my relationship with Africa is likely the strongest and most real I’ve had in years. And like any relationship, it can be exhausting at times. So today, I’m thankful that the Caprivi Strip has managed to bring some peace to my journey, and I’m sure that someday I’ll look back at this point in Africa and realize this is where the journey began to come to a close; and the point I realized I achieved what I really set out to do.