Feeling like Bambi

“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.