Facing Our Giants in the Caprivi
On a 5000km cycling tour through the heart of Africa, we surely had to face our giants more than once. No sooner than we hit the Caprivi, the first giant stepped onto the road:
We cycled through Bwabwata National Park – it was a perfect day. The air was fresh after rainfall. The wind blew from behind for the first time in many days. Life on a bicycle was ‘Hakoena Matata’. But then an elephant bull walked out of the bushes ahead of us and stood next to the road. My bravery evaporated. Adding to the dilemma a shiny car sped past, and hooted next to the elephant. The elephant got a fright and charged behind, but the car disappeared as a twinkling speck in the distance. The elephant stood tall and bold in the middle of the road and looked obsessively big – I blessed the wind from behind for carrying our scent towards it.
Time ticked on, but we stood dead still… Eventually the elephant crossed over into the bushes to our right. His back was visible. We dared to cycle forward, but realized he was watching us. We turned around to move backwards again. Next moment the elephant charged: Hendrik shouted “Trap –p-p-p-p!” I struggled to clip my right foot onto the peddle, and peddled with my heel instead. I looked down at my speedometer indicating 24km/h, knowing that an elephant charged at 40km/h.
The bull stopped beside the road. My legs felt like jelly. A tourist van approached the scene but drove past us and the elephant. Luckily the driver turned the van around, drove back to us, and asked: “Do you need to be escorted past the elephant?” “Yes sir”, answered Hendrik, “but you can’t drive off if the elephant charges”. The driver promised to stand his ground. He would drive in between us and the elephant. Hendrik reminded him not to hoot. Should things turn messy, we would jump onto the step below the sliding door of the van and cling to the opened windows, before the van would speed off – fool-proof! The van pulled away and Hendrik started to peddle.
My heart bounced in my throat. The elephant walked up to the driver’s window with a dramatic sway in his gait, and ears stretched out wide. I watched him through the windows – one of the tourists stood up out of her seat, to take a picture of his eyebrow. I just hoped the exhaust gasses would conceal our scent…Slowly we progressed … After what seemed like hours, we finally passed the elephant. I never looked back, I just waved good bye to my new hero – the driver of the van, and scrutinized every bush ahead for more elephant.
© Ricolette von Wielligh
Follow our journey for the Rhinos on www.cycleafrica.co.za