So we had booked 5 nights camping at various sites in Kgalagadi, but we had a few days to kill before we entered the National Park, so we thought we would try Molopo Kalahari Lodge for a few reasons, it had private ablutions, it was on the way to the park, but most importantly it had a swimming pool!!! En-route to the lodge we stopped at the tiny town of Askham, and incredibly it had a great little coffee shop (where we had the usual conversations about where we’ve come from, and what we’ve done for the last 2 years etc), and we even got the “offer” to stay at a property on the Isle of Man for the week of the TT races…….. Its a strange world.
While in Askham we walked along to the liquor store, imaginatively named Askham & Tellham, where in true rural African style we had to push our faces up against the wire mesh to view the offerings on show, stocked up with cheap plonk and tonics for Jac’s gin, we headed on to Molopo Lodge.
We stayed here for three nights, and arriving on 14th February we decided to eat in the restaurant as they had a sign up saying they had a special Valentines Night Menu. The very friendly waitress showed us the detailed Menu with all the choices for each of the 3 courses, the only trouble is it was in Afrikaans, and bless her she tried to translate it, but although she spoke good English and seemingly good Afrikaans the translation really didn’t work, she just kept saying the Afrikaans words. In the end the chef came out and had a go which was a little better, ok we thought lets go for it, at 185 Rand each (£11.50 each) we thought it looked good value.
We had a couple of drinks in the bar, together with the barbers/dentist chair and old fuel pump before heading into the restaurant.
Just before we walked through to the restaurant the chef appeared with a “sample” of Malva Pudding (I think he had taken a bit of a shine to Jac), as Jac enquired earlier what it actually was. This sample was a huge portion of a dessert complete with custard, not too dissimilar to our treacle pudding…… oh well maybe the portions of the 3 course meal will be quite small.
For starter’s we both ordered pizza with a tzatziki dip, obviously expecting either narrow strips of pizza, or maybe one tiny round baby pizza, we were wide eyed when the waitress bought us both a full sized pizza covered in cheese, and this was the starter!!!
The food was very good actually but the quantity was a little too much for us. Incredibly we were the only ones that had the Valentines Menu, and indeed there were only about 4 or 5 other guest eating here that night. Soul destroying for the chef and staff I’d think.
In the three nights we stayed here we were the only campers, and the only guests that stayed more than 1 night, so we really didn’t need the private ablutions, but we did have the pool completely to ourselves.
Molopo is a really nice lodge and money is currently being spent on it, but the pool was really quite dirty, you couldn’t see more than 100mm into the water, and the bottom was very slimy in places not that you could see it, but of course that didn’t stop us jumping in to cool off, though I did notice that here Jac didn’t put her head under.
But the great thing about lazing around the pool here was the enormous amount of Masked Weaver birds that were nesting above us.
And check out this old Apple computer that was in the lounge.
We even had a complimentary freshly baked loaf bought to our campsite by the chef, it was lovely too.
At last it was time to leave Molopo Lodge, and hit the tarmac into the red dunes of Kgalagadi National Park.
Arriving at the gate, we were surprised to find that Twee Rivieren (Two Rivers), was not only the entrance gate into the park but was also the South African Border Post and all your exit stamps had to be carried out here. So although we would still be in South Africa for another 6 days we had to do our immigration and customs documents here, you then do the same at another gate when leaving into Botswana or Namibia for immigration into that particular country. I guess thats why its now called the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The other large bird that was always on its own, but in large numbers was the Kori Bustard, and we did spot a few of the elegant snake eating Secretary Bird’s.
But we came here for big cats, and amazingly within an hour we came across a male Cheetah, he had obviously only just had a kill as his stomach was very extended, and infact we were convinced it was a heavily pregnant female until Jac zoomed in on the photos later and spotted his “bits” at the back, but wow what a great start to our time here.
Sitting there on our own, we watched from Colonel K this beautiful animal wander off into the grass and flop down under a tree about 20 metres from the track for a well earned kip. Now we were worried if we had peaked too early, would we see any more cats while here?
With our alarm set for 5.15am (every morning that we were there), we were ready to depart in Colonel K for a game drive by 6.00am (this is the earliest you can leave the campsite, and you must return by 7.30pm each evening), this is the best time to view the game and of course the early morning light makes for great photo opportunities, especially with the backdrop of the red sand dunes.
Another first for us was this lovely Cape Fox that was asleep on the gravel track until our old Daf woke him up.
And then there was this young Black Backed Jackal.
The Kalahari at the moment is indeed a beautiful place, every where is so lush and green, but it does make spotting animals quite difficult, but we had an advantage over other vehicles, our secret weapon Colonel K! From our elevated position we could see over the top of the long grass, this was especially advantageous when the gravel tracks disappeared after about 50km north of Twee Rivieren and the tracks became sandy and sunken below the surrounding grass land sometimes by over 2 feet.
It wasn’t long on that first early morning drive that we spotted a huge pride of Lions, 2 fully grown males, 2 fully grown females, 1 slightly younger female and 4 youngsters, and best of all they were hungry and hunting!
We sat there and watched as the lead female very slowly and stealthily crept up to the crest of the sand dune, and we could just make out a small herd of Gemsbok (approx 8-10 of them), and she gradually started to position herself to get the other side of them. All this time the other females and the males watched her, and knew instinctively to stay back out of the way, the young cubs just stayed nearer to us playing/fighting and sunning themselves in the early morning sun. Unbelievable, and a real privilege to watch.
But even the very playful cubs constantly kept a close eye on what Mum and Dad was up too.
We watched the lead female (from a distance) until she disappeared over the crest of the dune, and of course the other adult Lions and the youngsters eventually followed, we hoped that they would drive the Gemsbok over towards us on the track, but we figured that was not going to happen and so after edging along trying to spot them again for a while we gave up and moved on.
To our surprise about a kilometre along the track we spotted the head female of the pride coming over the dunes towards us, we know it was the same one as she was fitted with a collar for monitoring the pride for conservation purposes. Wow she came right up to the truck, sniffing the air, and still looking very hungry. She was truly a beauty, and had very few marks on her head or body, it was a shame that she had the collar on but if it helps protect them then I guess it’s a good thing.
There may be lots of grazing animals in Kgalagadi, such as Gemsbok, Springbok, and Red Hartebeest, but she still has to produce the goods or the whole pride suffers.
We had a cracking first full day in the park, and it was topped off with a swim in the swimming pool a Twee Riveiren, but next day was a long game drive, the 166km drive to Nossob camp. Now that doesn’t sound much but on the official map it suggests that in a normal 4×4 vehicle (not a 10 tonne Daf) and not stopping, in other words not game viewing it WILL take a minimum of 4.5 hours.
So leaving Twee Riveiren at 6.00am we set off for Nossob, the track soon loses its gravel and becomes very sandy, but not too deep. Just before the sand appeared though we saw this fella making his way across the track, not sure what type of snake he is but it didn’t look too friendly to me!
I also spotted a huge black scorpion but wasn’t quick enough with our trusty Lumix. Then guess what we spotted this little lady in the long grass just to the side of the track.
Then Jac realised that not far behind her were two youngsters, yes 3 Cheetahs together! This was getting better and better.
After a few minutes the mother started to move off and they were obviously in full hunting mode, I really wouldn’t want to be a young Springbok with this lot nearby.
What a place! And then we spotted our first true black maned Lion, a real beauty.
Our two nights at Nossob went far too quickly, but the campsite is always full (its not very big, and that makes it far more special), and as usual we met some really nice people (and some strange ones).
Once again we saw Lions including a group of three lioness’s that Jac spotted from miles away, we just sat there and they crossed our track right behind Colonel K.
And more Black Maned Lions.
This really is predator spotting heaven, but there were also many other animals about such as this Yellow Mongoose that seemed to like sheltering under the truck in the campsite. He might look nice and sweet but apparently they do bite and do carry rabies………
Also at Nossob, there was a huge number of Abdim’s Stork present, mostly roosting in the trees, but occasionally doing a good impression of a flock of vultures circling high in the sky.
Near to the storks were a huge number of Tawny Eagles cooling off in the trees in the midday sun.
Our last night in Nossob was met with a huge down pour complete with a massive thunderstorm, not too much of a problem for us in the truck but a bit of a nightmare for those South Africans that were either in roof tents or those that were mostly in ground tents, but hey it is the rainy season.
Next morning we were a little surprised that there wasn’t the usual rush for the gates at 6.00am, but we had the journey back to Twee Rivieren to do again and it took us 8 hours to get up here with all the stops and slow game viewing. I have to say I was not ready for what was in front of us, the lovely sand track that we had on the way up had turned literally into a river, in some places it even had a flow to it. No wonder no one was in a hurry to leave!!!
As always water finds its own level, in places it was only a few inches deep, in other low lying stretches the water was at least 2 foot deep (600mm), below is a photo Jac took out of the window as we were driving along, check out the spray way above the bottom of the window, it was relentless!
The worst section was the first 80km or so, after that I think the water was draining away, and obviously it was evaporating in the African sun, but during that first 80km for most of the time we could feel the water hitting the underside of the cab, that meant that the engine was being completely covered by spray and water rushing over it. The warning buzzer was blaring (this signifies that either the air brakes have failed or oil pressure has been lost) but with all the gauges showing good pressure we carried on ploughing through the flood. Then the rev counter packed up! Still the deafening buzzer was blaring. Eventually the rev counter started to work again and things started to return to normal, but I was so glad that we were in a four wheel drive high clearance truck on that day!!!
After one night at Twee Riveiren we set off at 6.00am the next morning for our final camp at Mata Mata. The game in this part of the park is prolific, and it was here we had another first of this trip, we sat and watched a large colony of Meerkats, disappearing into their burrows and then coming back out and standing on their rear legs for ages at a time.
It was here in this area that we saw even more Cheetah, and the sightings were exceptional including watching one family hunt, an amazing time.
Apart from the big cats in Kgalagadi, the other surprise for me was the number and variety of birds of prey, there must be so much food for these raptors, and it was great to sit and watch them, sometimes at very close hand. Like this magnificent Bateleur Eagle (or Short tailed Eagle).
There really were so many fantastic raptors here……..
And this huge Martial Eagle….
A Black-chested Snake Eagle…
Or this Black-winged (Black-shouldered) Kite with its amazing ruby red eyes….
We were sat watching a huge Lappet-faced Vulture that was sat resting on a branch, when all of a sudden a Tawny Eagle landed next to it, they just sat and stared at each other in seemingly disbelief that this could possibly have happened!!!
Then we watched this Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk very tentatively trying to extract something from the undergrowth, it was very wary of what ever it was trying to catch, perhaps a small snake?
Then there was this African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) watching closely a Tawny Eagle slightly lower down, all of this being watched by a pair of Starlings, and of course Me and Jac’s.
Thats the great thing about self driving safari’s, you can always stop and look and watch something. But for me a really special moment was watching a Snake Eagle scoop up a live snake and fly off with it to a nearby tree, unfortunately we didn’t have the camera ready and we were moving when we first spotted the snake dangling from the eagles talons, but it was an unforgettable sight.
Mata Mata is a much larger camp than the others that we stayed at in the NP, and that means that there really is a rush to get out of the gate at 6.00am, but the game viewing more than makes up for it, and again we saw some fantastic Lions and Cheetah.
Mata Mata was the only place that we saw Giraffe in the Transfrontier Park, but they were in quite large numbers here.
There is history in this massive place too, in 1908 a German force of over 500 soldiers entered (from what is now Namibia) into what is now the Transfrontier Park with over 700 camels brought over from North Africa (they soon realised that horses were useless in the dry Kalahari) in pursuit of a Nama leader by the name of Simon Kooper, armed with machine guns the locals didn’t stand a chance, but Mr Kooper escaped and took refuge in what is now Botswana under the protection of the British. We also met an ex soldier that served with the South African army in the war with Angola, and he explained that the reason that the water holes in the park are at such regular intervals (approx 20km apart) was that it was set up as another supply route, just incase the main route north was cut off, it was never used but the water holes still to this day supply fresh water along these dry river beds.
On our last day we saw this massive Eagle Owl hiding in the dense tree by the side of the track, and in complete contrast a stunning Hoopoe.
You can probably tell that we loved Kgalagadi, and the obvious comparison is with Kruger NP in the east of South Africa. In my opinion there really is no comparison, yes at Kruger you can see the fabled “Big 5” (there are no Elephants, Rhino or Buffalo in Kgalagadi), but for us Kruger is like a huge zoo, with tarmac roads, large numbers of visitors and massive rest camps. For the most part if you are on an organised tour to SA you will most probably visit Kruger NP, its just easier to stay and travel around. Whereas Kgalagadi has very limited accommodation (there are chalets at the rest camps, but its mostly camping for self driving guests), and narrow sand tracks between camps, and long may that last, its an amazing place, we bloody loved it!!!! So much so we stayed an extra day at Mata Mata before heading across the border into Namibia.
Thanks for reading, sorry for all the wildlife snaps (actually I’m not apologising for them ha)
After leaving Knysna, we drove the short distance to Buffalo Bay (or as the Afrikans call it Buffells Baai), this was a much nicer place to camp and explore after the vastly over hyped seaside town of Knysna. Though it was seriously windy on the campsite as it is right out on the narrow peninsular and so is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on 3 sides. It really was a stunning location and the pristine sandy beach stretched for mile after mile.
But the thing that Buffalo Bay is most famous for is its surfing beaches and every day there was various surf dude’s and dudesse’s (is there such a word?) taking off on their boards, some to a very high standard. What I couldn’t understand was why Jac was always so reluctant to leave her vantage point!!!!
Shark attacks are a real danger here to surfers, and so provided on the beach is a metal box that contains a Shark Bite Kit. But this is South Africa and so the box has to remain locked, you are provided with a telephone number (probably a premium rate number) and provided there is someone to answer the call on the other end of the line (not a given), and you can give them the correct location of the box, then you will be given the combination for the lock, you just have to hope that the shark bite isn’t too bad, all this takes time eh. This kit is provided by a local private hospital, so a good cheap way of advertising.
As usual there were plenty of stunning sunsets.
As many of you know we lost our German Short Haired Pointer just before we left on this trip, and after having Dillon for 16 years he has been sorely missed by us, but at Buffalo Bay we spotted Dillon’s double (or is that his reincarnation), it really did look like him, right down to his markings and his movement and actions. Jac went all gaga……
Next stop was the small Garden Route town of Wilderness, a very upmarket place with the usual fine array of coffee shops and curios (mostly tat stuff) where we stocked up on food and booze and then headed for Wilderness National Park. After Tsitskamma National Park (see previous post) we really weren’t expecting much, especially as Wilderness NP is little more than half the price of the camping at Storms River camp. But we have come to expect the unexpected on this trip and Wilderness NP was indeed very very nice. The campsite was much smaller than the one at Tsitskamma, and is stretched out along the river bank, and its all lush grass, and not too regimented (we hate these campsites with lines or boundaries).
Whilst here we did a bit of hiking, rented a canoe, and of course did plenty of swimming in the river just in front of the truck.
On one particular walk we had a choice of route to reach a waterfall, one was across stepping stones and one was via a pontoon, so we went for the pontoon not really knowing what to expect. When we got to the crossing we had to use a very unsteady self propelled pontoon, using a series of ropes and pulleys, all very new to us Pommies.
The waterfall was a little disappointing but it was a lovely walk for about 3 hours. We had a family of Egyptian Geese for company in front of the truck, and of course the usual Guinea Fowl.
When walking back from our canoeing trip we came across the biggest tortoise that we have seen on this trip, he was massive, and seemed oblivious of our presence.
As we are planning to spend next christmas and new year here in South Africa, we thought we would enquire about camping here again this December. The very friendly woman at the park headquarters (and for once quite efficient), informed us that the christmas and new year camping (about 80-100 camp spots over the two campsites) were all booked within 40 minutes of them being released on line! This is like Glastonbury, and I’m truly amazed that their cranky old website managed to cope with all that.
We also met some lovely people at Wilderness, an English couple that have bought a house near Capetown that were staying in one of the chalets at the back of the campsite, and their neighbours, two woman that were camped next to us. We had a really nice evening with the four of them sharing travel stories, and tales of wine (they do live in the middle of the vast wine region).They introduced us to a wine sold in a plastic bottle and costs less that £2.00 for 750ml, Tangled Tree Butterscotch Chardonnay, its lovely. We have since found out that it is sold in Checkers Liquor and have of course stocked up accordingly. We also met a Dutch couple that we had previously met in Malawi, and it was great to catch up with them and share tales.
Mossel Bay, mmmmm we stayed at the camp from hell. It was awful, the town was ok but the campsite was akin to a prison camp, and it was completely packed with pensioners here for the reduced rate that is applicable to them on Municipal campsites. I never took any photos in the 24 hours of staying here, and I take a lot of photo’s, and this really sums this place up. We also met some very rude people here (though that definitely does not include the lovely couple from Scotland that were thankfully in a camper next to us) that seemed it was their given right to look inside our house, well I got news for you, it ain’t your given right, and you ain’t coming in!!!!
After Mossel Bay we had really had enough of the coast and the Garden Route with all its touristy things (its really lovely in places but can be busy and touristy in others), and so we headed for Bontebok National Park, just outside the historic town of Swellendam.
Bontebok NP is not about the wildlife, you really have to understand that, and reading the visitors book at the park reception shows that many people come here expecting a mini Kruger, and it definitely isn’t that. What you do get from South Africa’s smallest National Park, is stunning scenery, quite a few hiking trails, a super clear river to swim in, and of course the chance to view Bontebok.
We loved our few days in Bontebok, again the campsite is nice and compact but each site has lots of room, and most are surrounded by trees.
Around the campsite the birdlife was really prolific, and eventually I managed to get a photo of a Mousebird, these really do never seem to stop still for very long and are always deep in the bush, very frustrating to get shot with my trusty Lumix.
Then the cheeky bugger turned around and waved at me!
But we really do enjoy the company of these feathered friends, especially watching the Weaver birds.
Ok no more bird shots!
Awww maybe one more of this Grey Heron that we spotted when out walking then……
But a great way to cool off here is to have a dip in the mountain fresh water of the river, its perfect after a few hours hike, and surprisingly warm (ish).
The other thing that we will remember about Bontebok was the vast number of tortoises, we must have seen 20-30 of them in the few days that we were in the National Park, and they were mating too, a strange sight, and an even stranger noise.
After a few days exploring Bontebok, we had a quick trip back into the old town of Swellendam which is very nice (there really are two very different halves to the town), a bit of shopping and a top up of Colonel K’s finest tipple and we headed off into the winelands toward Worcester.
Swellendam is also the start of the Winelands, these vast areas of vineyards go from here right through to Stellenbosch and wine is produced here on a vast industrial scale. We stopped one day for a coffee at a farm shop (known here as a Padstal), it was of course owned by a vineyard, in this case Bonnievale, so two bottle’s were bought. Later that day we stopped for lunch at a very nice restaurant just before Worcester, again owned by another vineyard, this time Rooisberg Wines. They really are one after the other and each town produces its own maps showing all the local vineyard’s. Guess what? That night we camped at a wine farm…… and so it goes on.
After the hustle and bustle of the Garden Route and the Winelands, we decided to cross over the mountain range via one of the many steep passes, and up into the Highveld, or the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) as its known here. This is a huge semi arid desert area and was much more to our liking, especially as we found a lovely place to camp on a farm about 40km from the main road, it was great to be back on the gravel tracks and of course seeing WILD wildlife.
It might seem strange to some people but we love these wild and remote places, and when you see things like a flock of Blue Cranes near the gravel track, it really is special.
The farm really was like an oasis in the desert, with a number of small dams (ponds to us Brits) that were a haven for birds such as weavers, herons and a few ducks.
It was a great place to relax for a couple of days, but once again there was the seemingly never ending threat of fire looming over us, this is a very very dry place and as evening drew in we realised that there was fire raging up in the hills and the smoke was coming towards us AGAIN! Thankfully the wind dropped overnight and by morning the smoke had almost disappeared, the owners of the farm didn’t seem too concerned, so we relaxed a bit.
From the Klein Karoo, we headed back to the main tarmac road and decided to head for the tiny town of Sutherland, slap bang in the centre of the Great Karoo. Off the main road we spotted a Union Jack, and a Scottish flag flying over to the right, and a huge sign painted on the tin roof of an old derelict building saying “The Lord Milner”, hopefully there might be fresh coffee at the end of this ‘rainbow’! What we found was a very pleasant shock. You have to remember that this is in the middle of nowhere, a semi-arid nowhere, and just 2 or 3 kilometres down this dusty scruffy track was an immaculate Scottish style country hotel! Even South Africa can still throw up surprises.
And there was a separate coffee shop and a Pub, The Milner’s Arms, a little transport Museum, and a Post Office (well sort of), this really is an incredible place. It was built by a Scot by the name of Jimmy Loga. After arriving in Capetown to work on the railways and somehow he managed to gain the sole rights to sell drinks on the train (there is also a train station here) that ran from Bulawayo (now in Zimbabwe) to Capetown when the railroad first started around the early 1900’s. After making a few Bob doing this he decided to build a health resort for the rich and famous of South Africa here at Matjiesfontein, and apparently he did very nicely out of it, and for many years it was the place to come to.
Nowadays the place survives mostly by a twice weekly visit and an hours stop of “The Blue Train” a luxury train that slowly does that same journey (only now its only from Jo’Burg to Capetown), but this time its full of about 80 tourists, it must be a nightmare to be there when that lot arrives, and thankfully when we were there it was very quiet. There is even an old Routemaster double decker London bus to take them on a short trip………
Here we met John, there are a couple of things thats worth knowing about John. Firstly John was born here at The Lord Milner (allegedly), and his mother worked here as a maid. When we arrived John seemed extremely bored, and it was also his job ,it seemed, to encourage people into The Milners Arms, to spend money on drinks. But the main thing to know about John is that he was funny, in fact John was bloody hilariously funny. If this was really his job then he was extremely good at it.
John was convinced that we were a honeymoon couple (god knows why), and in the quarter of an hour that we spent with him we laughed so much, he really was one of life’s naturally funny guys. Mind you we still didn’t spend any money in the bar, it was only about 10.30 in the morning,but we had to sing along with him at the piano !
After all the bush fires that we had seen it was good to see that there was cutting edge firefighting equipment on hand!
We were pleasantly surprised that a new tarmac road had been built, or upgraded for the 100km drive north to Sutherland, and despite it being very hilly in places, we made time quite quickly.
We were told by Paul (the invisible man from Kloof) that Sutherland was worth a visit for the star gazing, and it didn’t disappoint. Sutherland town is a tiny town that is full of old Victorian, or slightly later buildings that seem to be incredibly preserved, and despite its remoteness it has a really nice friendly feel to it, oh and its full of guest houses and coffee shops/restaurants!!
So what makes Sutherland so popular with tourists? Well the remoteness (its hundreds of kilometres away from any towns), and its altitude of 1,550m (about 5,100 feet), mean extremely clear skies and zero light pollution. For this reason the international community decided that Sutherland was the ideal place to build the most powerful telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with this a whole mini industry has sprouted up for amateur astronomers.
We found our campsite just outside town, and booked Jurg the owner to have one of his private star gazing sessions that evening.
First thing we had to do was to meet our guard dog for the time we were to spend there, Jurg told us to camp at the last spot, number 7, and number 7 was also the home of Trompie the resident Jack Russell cross something or other. Trompie Van Sterland was adorable and was determined to look after us and Colonel K!
Sutherland is also known as the coldest place in South Africa and gets snow most winters, but this was the summer it was very hot during the day and still in the low 20’s C in the night.
That evening we had a really good couple of hours out in Jurg’s ‘Boma’ where he has four satellite controlled high power telescopes, he is quite passionate about his hobby, and despite having to buy all this amazing equipment only charges 100 rand (about £5.80) for two hours. There was about 8 or 9 of us with him that night (incredibly mostly English), and there were many gasps, and “wows” as eyes went to the telescopes, as we were shown the unbelievable colours of a nebula, dying stars, and new stars. The only issue was that it was almost a full moon and so this restricted some of the things that he wanted to show us, but it was an absolutely crystal clear night.
At the end of the evening Jurg asked if we would like to view the moon, but warned us that because of the brightness of the moon that night we would suffer from black spots in our vision for about 10 minutes afterwards, but assured us that it would pass and no lasting damage would be done!!!! Ok lets go for it….. WOW what a view, the craters were so clear it was incredible. After we had had our fill of “burnt retinas”, our host asked if we had a smart phone, and so he placed the camera lens of our crappy old iPhone 4 to the eyepiece and clicked……
We had a great evening, and learnt a lot about something that we previously knew nothing about, but it was back to our trusty camper to find Trompie still awake and in his guard house.
Next day we drove to SALT (Southern African Long Range Telescope), and spent a couple of hours being shown around the various telescopes. Access to SALT is via a very very steep road, and boy in the heat this made Colonel K grunt! Again it was very interesting, but some of the stuff was way over out heads, in the end we stuck to the kiddies displays, they explained things in a way that meant you didn’t need to be a quantum physicist to understand it!!!
There are about a dozen telescopes here on the site, not just the main SALT telescope, and many countries have built their own smaller (but still very powerful) telescopes and rent the land but they are operated remotely from their own country (UK, Germany, South Korea, USA, Poland and many others have their own scopes here). SALT is also part owned and funded by many countries with South Africa only owning 30% of it, its a truly international place.
After all this high tech stuff we badly needed a coffee so headed back to Sutherland, and was told by a local to try the Blue Moon guest house, we had a lovely lunch here in this very Engish tea rooms type place. We also met a large group of Afrikaans here and after one old guy insisting to talk to us flat out for ten minutes solely in Afrikaans, and us not understanding a word of what he said, his daughter came over and roughly translated that he was telling us that they are farmers that leave out in the remote areas of the karoo, and every so often they all get together and visit the “Big City” (Sutherland, obviously) for the day to do shopping and have lunch……… Characters eh….
The other thing that Sutherland is famous for is the graves of a young British soldier. Trooper Davey Burnett was unlucky enough to be in this extremely dry place and in 1901, during a rare down pour he drowned in a flash flood. He was buried in the graveyard (a rough scruffy patch of land on the edge of town) with a full gravestone.
Then when the army heard about this (in the same year), they decided that he should have a proper military grave, so only a couple of yards to the left is his second grave ,its not just a metal cross. Though which one has his body in is anyones guess.
When we heard this story from Jurg, we were intrigued to see these two graves, so with Colonel K parked on the street we started up the track to the graveyard, and as we were going up, a car was pulling out, they stopped and the four occupants (2 British, and 2 South Africans) told us that the graves of Davey Burnett were not here, and they had looked for ages and couldn’t find them and were off to find another graveyard…… After two minutes of looking around the graves Jac spotted the metal cross, and within another few minutes we had found the grave stone, its a tiny place, and I’m not sure how they missed both of them.
Leaving Sutherland and heading north again theres only dusty gravel tracks to drive on, and its about 150km to the main road, but wow what stunning scenery.
After about 350km we arrived at another remote town called Brandvlei, and found that our first choice of camping about 15km out of town was full (it only has two campspots), so she kindly recommended The Casablance Guest House and Camping on the edge of town. Our hopes of Brandvlei being another “Sutherland” were quickly dashed as we realised that it is quite a poor town, and very scruffy, I guess it’s got a population of about 4,000, so still quite small.
The Casablance Guest House and Camping is neither really, there is absolutely zero facilities for campers, with no toilets or showers, we just parked in the back yard on the dusty gravel. The Lady owner appeared, and when we asked about a WC or shower she said she would give us a key to the house and we could use the bathroom in there. After a brief chat with this very friendly but slightly “away with the fairy folk” woman, we settled down and made a coffee in the truck. After a hour I decided to use the bathroom in the house, oh my god that place was weird…… It was like a shrine to the forties and fifties, there was old vintage clothes hanging in random places around the house, and despite it being afternoon it was dark in there, all the curtains were closed, and of course there was no electricity!!!! Then I eventually found the bathroom (which also opened into a bedroom), it was like a set from a Stephen King or Alfred Hitchcock film, over the bath was an old dress, almost like an old lacy wedding dress, then above the toilet was an old white corset, but worst of all was the pink girdle that was on a cut down mannequin next to the wash hand basin, and all that was in there to provide light was a tiny rechargeable solar lamp, very very creepy!!! All the place needed was a few nasty looking dolls, and it would have been like a cross between the Bates Hotel and The Bride of Chuckie.
Next morning the lovely owner told us that she doesn’t get any trouble with the locals because of the four massive dogs that she has, and of course she has a snake in the house! Luckily we didn’t meet the snake.
We are currently camped just north of the large town of Uppington, and have booked 5 nights camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we are really looking forward to visiting this vast desert area, but were surprised that some of the campsites are fully booked, so we have about 4 days before we drive to the park.
On the way to Uppington, and afterwards we saw this massive structure in the distance, its truly impressive, and can still see it from our campsite just on the horizon, its called Khi Solar One and its a solar tower, I don’t fully understand it but if your interested you can google it.
Thanks for reading, sorry its a bit long, but I needed to catch up
Lots of people warned us about travelling through the Transkei, “don’t stop unless you have to”, “don’t wild camp on the Wild Coast”, these were just a few on the many warnings that were given to us as we left the Kwazulu-Natal areas of Durban through to Port Shepstone.
The Transkei was once an “Independent State” set up by the apartheid government of South Africa to create a so called homeland for the Xhosa people, the only country in the world that recognised this new Independent State was South Africa. It was a farce, and set up to try to appease the growing hostility against the apartheid regime, it was of course funded by South Africa, it is still to this day a very poor region of South Africa.
Apart from the old Capital town of Umtata (now renamed Mthatha), this vast area is populated with thousands and thousands of Xhosa villages, its very rural, but there are people everywhere (little room for a pee stop in this place). The guide books reaffirm the warning of car jackings, violent crime etc, but we didn’t see any of this in the few days that we spent in the Transkei, admittedly we were very cautious and only camped at recognised camping spots.
But one thing the Transkei area definitely has is beauty, buckets of beauty, and for me one of the most stunning areas of South Africa. You could pick up the 21st Century Transkei area and drop it into many much poorer areas on the African continent and it really wouldn’t look out of place.
There is no coastal road running from Port Edward to East London (the beginning and end of the Transkei/Wild Coast area), instead you have to head inland to Mthatha. This means that you drive from sea level in Port Edward, and then in Mthatha you find yourself at 4,000 feet, but this only tells half the story, to get to this height, the terrain is seriously undulating, and I would guess that you actually climb closer to double that during the drive.
There is talk that the South African Government are thinking about building a new coastal route from north to south, personally I can’t see it ever happening, the cost would be astronomical, it would be like building a brand new road through the European Alps, including bridges, tunnels etc, etc.
In the old days, gambling and prostitution were illegal in South Africa, but hey guess what? They made it legal in the “Independent State” of Transkei, and within a few hundred metres of crossing into the former Transkei, yup there’s a huge very seedy looking casino, so not too far to go from your nice holiday home at Margate, or Port St Johns.
One lovely place that we camped was at Kei River Mouth, this was actually on the river rather than on the shore, and the steeply sided cliffs on either side of us, that had been cut away during millions of years, really was beautiful.
Our next stop on the Wild Coast was for me the best campsite that we have stayed at in South Africa (so far), it was at the western side of the river at Cintsa. Here we camped behind the sand dunes, and each camp had its own ablutions (WC and shower), it wasn’t posh, it was a little rustic, but it was a really nice place. The caretaker here came out to meet us, a frail old man that had lost most of his voice after major throat surgery, he was 96 years old, yes that wasn’t a typing error, he was 96!!!!!! We also met a friend here, a dog that we really fell for, apparently no one owns him, but we fed him the last of our dog food that we had bought in Kenya, and he followed us everywhere….. or to be more precise he led us everywhere.
We had some great walks along the beach here, you could literally walk for miles in either direction, obviously the Indian Ocean here is crystal clear, and each rock pool has its own eco system, most have coral, fish and crabs in them, it really was a little bit of paradise for us, and of course apart from locals fishing on the beach, there was no one here.
After the quiet and tranquility of the Wild Coast, it was a bit of a shock getting into Port Elizabeth, this is a big modern town with a bustling harbour. We found a nice campsite about 8km out the far side of town, right out on the headland known as Cape Recife. The Willows is quite a large resort with not only a camp site, but also lots of self catering thatched bungalows scattered around the place, the view from our site was fantastic (apart from the dead seal on the beach).
We decided to stay here for a few days and Jac needed a little retail therapy to recharge her girly batteries, so off we went to the newest and biggest mall in town (actually it was a little out of town). Google maps got us to the mall, and it was indeed a large place, or it seemed a large place from the outside, because we very nearly had an international incident on our hands. As we turned off the main road and into the mall parking area, I happened to notice up ahead a 2.0m height restriction (in true African tradition there is no warnings about this), and as we are 3.5m high, it really wasn’t going to work! Luckily there weren’t too many cars entering the mall at the time (this is no Bluewater or Lakeside, but probably nearly as big), and I ended up reversing all the way back and out of the traffic lights the wrong direction. Back in PE we found another shopping Mall, took up 4 car parking spaces and had a pleasant few hours looking at thing we can’t afford (or so I told Jac).
On the way back as we approached the campsite we found ourselves in the middle of a bush fire, luckily the very strong wind was coming straight in from the sea, and so was blowing the fire and smoke inland and away from the campsite. Just after we drove through we heard that they had shut the road for a few hours because of the smoke. This situation stayed with us for the next couple of days, and at night we could see the flames still burning in the distance, apparently destroying the Nature Reserve on the other side of the road. Then just as we were sat outside drinking Gin and Tonics, and cooking our braii (barbecue), the wind suddenly stopped, literally ceased from I guess a constant force 4, to zero wind. Then 10 minutes later it started again only this time our force 4 had turned 180 degrees and has coming off the land, and of course driving the fire directly back towards us!!
All of a sudden Port Elizabeth’s Fire service was roaring around the camp, there were blue lights and vehicles everywhere. We were told to pack everything away, and be ready to leave at a moments notice if we get “the call”. By now it was dark, and we could clearly see the flames not too far away, and there was ash covering everything, we didn’t get much sleep that night! But somehow they managed to stop the fire entering the very dry areas and trees of the campsite and at about 6.00am the fire fighters decided to sound their siren while driving about the camp to indicate the all clear. I was actually up and about by then and knew what it meant, but some campers took that as a sign that they must evacuate the campsite…. quite amusing really.
We left the campsite that morning, not wanting to tempt fate for a second night, and as we turned out on to the road we realised how close we came to losing Colonel K. The fire had actually crossed the road and had burnt large areas right up to the campsite fence. Quite a scary experience, but it is a real danger here in South Africa at the moment. There is evidence that many of these fires are started deliberately, and some seem to think that there are an unnatural amount of bush fires in the areas recently lost by the ANC party to the Democratic Alliance (the DA), and are blaming ANC supporters for starting them, Im not sure about that, but as we have experienced here, there are lots of fires happening and doing a hell of a lot of damage to farms, forests, and Nature reserves.
After PE we continued west along the Garden Route to Storms River in Tsitskamma National Park, we planned to spend quite a bit of time here, but as with most things on the Garden Route it was stupidly expensive. The campsite without the conservation fee’s (we don’t pay these as we bought a 12 months Wildcard while in Kruger NP), was 485 rand per night (over £30.00), so only paid for two nights in the end. The ablutions arent that great either for that money, and the tourists…….. What a shock, there were coaches after coaches pulling in here for 2 or 3 hours at a time. We hadn’t experienced this in the last two years of being in Africa…….Coaches!
The main draw for people on these coaches are the suspension bridges across the narrow gorge, that are a very short walk from the coach park and temporary restaurant (the original building burnt down…. another fire). These are billed as “world famous”, mmmm I’m not sure about that, and the original bridge built by the British has been removed and a new one built in its place, along side another new one so the coach party’s can easily get to the “new” old bridge.
But despite the cost, one thing made the visit to Storms River worth it…… a fantastic walk west from the campsite to a waterfall. The leaflets say its a 7.5 kilometre walk but that it is quite challenging and you should allow 4 hours to complete it,…… four hours to walk just over 4.5 miles, yeah right… if your a 96 year old caretaker!!!!!
So armed with a rucksack containing plenty of water, a few nibbles, camera and swimwear and towel (just in case theres somewhere to cool down) we set out from Colonel K. The first few kilometres were a breeze, sure it was undulating much like the coastal path is in Cornwall, then we dropped down to the shore again, and the path disappeared. There was no path, but there was a few painted feet on the massive jagged rocks showing you the “easiest” suggested route. This walk suddenly turned into cross between a rock climb and a scrabble (both in places). At one point you literally have to edge along a ledge with your toes on the rock face and you hugging the cliff. One of the toughest short “set out” walks that we have done.
Eventually we got to the waterfall, and for once it didn’t disappoint, it was a 50 metre drop into a large pool only 2 metres above the sea.
We were hot and sweaty, and the water was ice cold, but before I knew it, Jac was in her bikini and straight in. I could see from her expression that it was even colder than my toe test told me, but obviously I couldn’t let the males of the world down, so in I jumped……BLOODY HELL THAT WAS COLD!
On this trip we have swam in some great and wild places, but oh my god that was the coldest. It was lovely and refreshing but in the end I started to cramp up in the cold and with the pool being so deep decided to get out and the two of us just laid there warming up like a couple of lizards.
The sea here really does come in, in a wild manner, it wasn’t windy while we were at Tsitsikamma, but the waves are constantly smashing into the rocky shore.
In front of where we were camped we watched a pair of Giant Kingfishers hunting along the shore, these are the worlds largest Kingfisher, and are more like a small bird of prey in size, beautiful to watch though.
While we were at Storms River a couple told us about a lovely campsite just before Plettenberg Bay, and the clincher for Jac was, it was within walking distance of a fantastic Italian Restaurant on the beach. So off we set for Arch Rock in Keurboomstrand, this is a very affluent area with some massive holiday homes, when we got to the entrance to Arch Rock there was no mention of camping and there was a large sign suspended across the entrance (too low for the Colonel to get under), but it looked like the whole thing might swing open. So off Jac went to see what the place was about, she reappeared a few minutes later with the owner, who obviously wanted our business and told us that he would get his maintenance man to remove the sign so we could get under.
Fifteen minutes later and a lot of balancing on the ladder, the extremely heavy sign (complete with metal box section backing), was down.
Perfect…So off we go under the entrance, only trouble was that I guess the remaining bar was 3.49m high and we are 3.5m high!!!! Other that letting down the tyres we weren’t going to fit, so after many apologies to the owner and a very fed up maintenance man we drove on to Plettenberg Bay and found another campsite.
This time we ended up on a huge campsite on the very edge of Plett (this is what the locals call Plettenberg Bay), thankfully it was fairly empty, though as it was a weekend there were a fair number of local families here just for one or two nights, and so all the beach front camp areas had been taken. As we drove through the site looking for a suitable place to park up, we spotted a couple of old acquaintances in their old Mercedes Unimog, it was Stonne, and Hilda from Belgium.
We last met this lovely couple over a year ago in Swakopmund, Namibia, and they were on their way to Port Elizabeth to ship their truck home. They had driven through to Lusaka in Zambia when Stonne started to complain about a “bit of a headache”, and as it was during the wet season and pouring down in Lusaka and beyond, they decided to head back to the Caprivi Strip area in Namibia. When his head aches, and other aches and pains didn’t improve they were both convinced Stonne was suffering from an acute case of Malaria. Then in Northern Namibia he took a serious turn for the worst and was rushed at high speed in an ambulance down to Windhoek, where he was diagnosed as having a brain haemorrhage, and very quickly had his skull drilled to relieve the pressure. After a spell in hospital in Namibia, they flew back to Belgium to rest and recuperate. Because of this scare they have understandably decided to cut short their African adventure early, and are going to travel Europe more extensively. It was strange because somewhere on our travels, we were told that Stonne had been taken ill in Lusaka, but had heard no more about it since then.
We had a couple of great evenings drinking with this lovely couple, and we wish them all the best for the future.
The campsite at Plett actually turned out to be a really pleasant place, and as with many places in SA we once again met some really nice people here. The lagoon that is in front of the campsite is really stunning, and is a perfect place for a swim especially if you have kids, and of course a great place to walk along the beach.
After Plett, it was only a very short drive to Knysna, and we had very high hopes for Knysna. We had met many South Africans that go here for their holidays, and really raved about it, so our first stop was an overnight at the “East Heads”. Knysna town itself is situated on a huge lagoon, which has two quite big islands in it (both of these islands are completely jam packed with large detached holiday homes), and the entrance to the lagoon from the sea is through a narrow gap guarded each side by high cliffs (the East and West Heads).
We had heard that there is a lovely restaurant at East Head, but soon realised that there was a 5 tonne weight limit on that road, and the car park was full so we drove to the campsite and walked along the narrow road to The East Heads Cafe. We had a fantastic meal here (it was a late lunch), and soaked up the views from the terrace with our wine.
We only stayed here one night, but it was only about 5km’s to our next campsite right on the edge of Knysna itself (Colonel K’s temperature gauge, never fully moved round). Once again Jac was looking forward to doing a bit of shopping, and I was looking forward to a few cafes and a nice lunch. I have to say we were more than a little disappointed in Knysna, yes the Waterfront has a few quirky shops and sure there are lots of cafes, but really its a little like a cross between Brighton and Margate, only much smaller and of course much warmer (oh and a bit posher).
Next we are off to Wilderness NP, Mossel Bay and then inland to the winelands.
Thanks for reading
Well, the complete idiots at Limpopo Caravans did eventually finish the work on the roof of Colonel K, it turns out we had two leaks one under the solar panel (sorted by removing completely, and resealing), and another under the air-con unit (again removal of the Dometic unit and a new piece of flat aluminium sealed across the joint fixed this). We also had 4 new leisure batteries fitted, these power everything in the living accommodation (fridge, lights, water pump, toilet fan, etc). In the end our bill was 9,200 Rand (£575.00), but after a very heated discussion with the workshop manager and the owner, where we pointed out that we have incurred considerable costs due to it taking 7 days instead of 3 days, and there was some damage caused to one of the units where they left Colonel K out in an epic storm over night, we eventually agreed to pay them 4,000 Rand (£250.00).
After a quick stock up of essentials (Yum Yum Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter), we set out on the long drive down to Hilton, near Pietermairitzburg, with an over night stop near Newcastle. We arranged to meet Sandy and her sister Ninette at a very swish small shopping complex on the edge of nearby Howick, then followed Sandy to her dads smallholding. The farm is set in the most beautiful of settings, set on the side of a steep valley about 10km outside of the very upmarket town of Hilton.
Christmas didn’t quite go to plan as both Sandy’s parents were admitted to hospital just prior to our arrival, with her Dad Nico, having major surgery and being released on christmas day! We stayed at Ninette and Brendon’s on both christmas eve and christmas day, and had a great time getting to know their family and friends, and were made so welcome by everyone. Christmas is very different here to in the UK, perhaps the biggest difference in the weather, everything is done outside, including the eating (though obviously shade is needed). The other thing that seemed very different is that kids don’t seem to be showered by dozens and dozens of presents.
Brendon took me on a tour of his timber yard early on christmas morning, delivering some cold meat to his security guys. This was an extremely impressive set up, with all the ripping saws, pressure vessels and the workshops where fencing, trellis, and garden furniture is produced. He employs 100 people here, with approx. 90% of them women (its mostly men driving the trucks, and security), apparently Zulu women are much more hard working and reliable than Zulu men. Almost all his staff are housed on site just outside the yard, it seems that Brendon really knows his staff and looks after them accordingly, it seems that this is also the key to having a peaceful and safe time living in theses parts. Attacks on farms in South Africa are a real problem, with violence on an unprecedented scale, since being in SA we have seen many accounts of this. Another common problem is deliberate forest/bush fires, and there were a spate of these just before christmas, and many people believe there were started by disgruntled employees that were not happy with their christmas bonuses!!!!! A very different world eh.
Sandy had arranged to fly to Port Elizabeth (on the south coast) for four days and Ninette was also going away, so we happily agreed to stay at the farm and to look after Nico.For someone that had just had major surgery, he was doing his best not to show it !!! It was impossible to keep him still and rested as he really does like to entertain visitors .We were also kept busy rounding up the extremely errant cattle that were determined to escape and cause havoc at every available opportunity.
The four days that Sandy wasn’t about were mostly taken up with driving Nico to various hospitals and clinics, not only seeing various doctors with his own ailments but also to visit Jeanette, his wife. In between these medical stops, we were treated to the sights of Howick and the surrounding areas, including all Nico’s usual bar and pub stops, and the stunning Howick Falls. We wish Nico, Jeanette, Sandy and the family well for 2017.
Nico’s neighbour’s, Alister and Elma, made us particularly welcome and we enjoyed a fantastic evening meal at their stunning new house. Alister decided a few years ago to get rid of all his cattle etc and stock his farm with various African game, including Zebra, and various types of Antelope, all for his own game viewing pleasure. They also have a few “A Frame” self catering chalets that they let out, this really is a beautiful place, both the house, the farm and the views.
We really hit it off with this lovely couple and ended up having a great New Years Eve at their son Callum’s house (also on the farm), and then being invited back on New Years Day (with slightly sore heads) for lunch of Haggis, Tatties, and Neaps, all expertly cooked by Alister (yes he is originally from Scotland).Callum was also particularly interested in Col K, having just left the British army .
On Nico’s Small holding, there was a lovely (if slightly dim) dog called Lola, that lived on the farm but was owned by one of Nico’s tenants June. June and her daughter also disappeared from the farm for a few days and so we agreed to feed and water Lola ,she was sleeping under Colonel K anyway. Suddenly another dog appeared, Hobo the very old and stiff Jack Russell apparently just goes from farm to farm spending a few days at each one before moving on to the next, it seems that they all feed Hobo. Now we have two dogs curled up and sleeping under the Daf.
One night we were awoken by Hobo barking and growling, then there was lots of slapping noise, and more growling, Jac got up and peered out of the truck window to see Hobo proudly standing over, and still growling at a very dead snake. We also heard stories of Hobo killing cobra’s and puff adders, he might be old and grey but he’s still quick enough to dispatch a deadly snake, maybe thats why farmers are so keen for him to visit them! Hobo stood guard over the decapitated reptile for the rest of the night, and the next morning until it was taken away by Alister.
After New Year it was time to leave Hilton and to, as promised, visit “The Invisible Man”, a fantastic character that we met over a year ago while travelling in his old Mercedes 911 truck in Namibia. Paul lives only about 80km down the road from Hilton in a amazingly affluent area called Kloof, this is only about a 40 minute drive to Durban. He cut short his truck travels and returned home, not really knowing why (something just told him in his head to go home). Within a very short time he was admitted to Hospital and it was found he had a very rare infection that had spread from his skull and had infected all his spinal disc’s, very very painful, and caused they think by a button on the top of his baseball cap after he bashed his head!!!!! Anyway thankfully Paul has made a full recovery and is definitely back to his old usual crazy self. Paul explained that as he was supposed to still be travelling, he couldn’t accommodate us in his house as he still had tenants in there, but we could park or stay at his “granny flat” where he was currently living. His “granny flat” was a large 2 bedroom bungalow that was bigger than most peoples house in the UK. We stayed here for seven days and used his spare bedroom which had its own ensuite. Luxury……..
We really had a great week here with Paul, meeting some of his friends, having Braii’s, eating out, visiting the sights of Durban, and surrounding areas.
Paul really does have many stories to tell, about characters that he has met and known. Some of them almost unbelievable, but guaranteed to make you laugh, including the story of his old friend that used to own this armoured car pictured below, stories maybe from a bygone age from South Africa.
On one particular day Paul drove us into Durban where the plan was we would rent some cycles and bike north along the sea front. A great plan that was doomed from the start!! First of all as it was still holiday time here in SA, all the roads to the Waterfront area were closed off by police and the only option was to park up in one of the “rougher” areas of town and walk in……. not really an option in Durban. So after a drive about town, Paul thought it would be nice to visit one of his old haunts in the dock area (Paul and his family sailed their yacht on two year Indian Ocean adventure many years ago). The Pub had been closed long ago……… ok not a problem Paul knew a lovely place on the way back to Kloof where we could have coffee and cake (the key to Jacs heart), guess what?….. NO CAKES!!! Despite Paul being very apologetic we had a lovely day, and this was topped off with meeting one of his friends in the evening and us all going for what must have been the best Thai food we’ve ever had.
We did manage to walk along the waterfront on another occasion up to a very upmarket development to the north of the city, they have even built a brand new pier for the holiday makers.
Eventually we had to leave Kloof, and Paul was back to “work” on Monday, so on Sunday 8th of January we re-boarded Colonel K to continue our journey. We really hope to see Paul again, whether that is in SA or England, he really made us welcome and we enjoyed spending time with him again.
We didn’t want a huge journey that first morning but wanted to follow the coast down toward Port Elizabeth (in the south), so Paul recommended Rocky Bay which is just south of Durban and still in KwaZulu-Natal. This is quite a large campsite but in a truly stunning location.
We ended up staying here for a couple of nights and again met some really friendly people. We also saw first hand, camping “South African Style”, for many this involves having locals not only setting up your caravan, awnings, tents etc, but also in some instances getting the locals to wash your dishes for you in the morning and clean your braii (barbecue), like I say a different world eh….
Next up we decided to stop in the small town of Port Edward, this is the last place in KwaZulu-Natal, before you enter the much more troubled and possibly dangerous Transkei region (we had already been warned not to stop on the road in the Transkei, due to the high numbers of car jackings and robberies here). In the Port Edward area there are lots of campsites, but the 1st one we tried wanted 600 Rand (£37.50) a night for camping (for us and the truck), NOOOOOO THANKS….. The next place was closed and up for sale, the third one whilst looked open had its gates firmly locked shut and no one was answering the phone…. At the fourth campsite I managed to wake up the owner only to be told they were now shut until Easter (she did say we could stop there but as she was so rude to me I said don’t bother)……. Then we rang the fifth one (The Port O’ Call Campsite) to be told we can stay there but there would be no security that night as it was short notice and he wasn’t expecting any clients that night!!! After all that driving about, we settled for a night here, and it turned out to be a nice quirky little campsite. This campsite is also up for sale!
On the way to Port Edward we went through some very English sounding places including Trafalgar, Port Shepstone, and of course Ramsgate and Margate, Ramsgate is slightly more up market than Margate….. sound familiar?
Next we go into the Transkei and then the much hyped Garden Route…….
Thanks for reading, sorry its a little behind the times, I promise to try harder!
Entering South Africa at Martin’s Drift/Groblers Bridge border crossing was a real pain in the butt! Leaving Botswana was a breeze, and things were looking good until we crossed the bridge and then there in front of us was the longest queue of pedestrians we had seen since leaving Morocco into Mauritania a year and a half ago.
In these instances, where you park the truck takes some thought, you really don’t want to get boxed in and then have to wait for other people to do their paperwork before you can actually leave, so I strategically parked behind a row of commercial trucks so that I could leave the queue and go either way out. As we got to the back of the long queue of people waiting to get to Immigration a security guy told me we couldn’t park there as we weren’t a commercial vehicle. Now despite a queue of at least 200 people in front of us, Grobler Bridge border post is tiny and there is very little parking and Colonel K was definitely never going to fit between the cars in a parking bay (even if one became free). He directed me past the parking area to another security guard, who then directed me even further to another security guard, and so it went on until eventually I was outside the border barrier and now officially in South Africa and parked on the road!!! At no time was I asked for ID, but Jac was now inside, in the queue with my passport, this could now be a problem getting back inside the secure area, NOPE, I just walked though all the barriers saying hi to anyone that looked at me. Armed with hats and 1.5 litres of water we settled down to a two hour shuffle along outside until we got to the Immigration desk.
It was incredibly frustrating with only two officials checking and stamping passports (one was doing 10 times more than the other one that was doing a fantastic impression of a sedated zombie). But eventually we were through, found a customs official that could stamp our carnet, and amazingly Colonel K still had all its wheels when we got back to him, as usual no one bothered to check inside the truck, (we could have had 20 passengers inside).
We badly need to replace our leisure batteries (those that serve our living accommodation), and find somewhere to remove the solar panel and fix a leak underneath and to sort a issue with the air-con unit which sometimes lets in water. So we headed for the large town of Polokwane (formally Pietersburg) in the north of the Limpopo region, where we found a nice small friendly campsite, Boma in the Bush. Here the owners and other guests suggested a few places where we could get this work done and the most promising was a large camping and caravanning shop about 10km back into town.
The next morning we met the workshop manager who quoted for the work, and we booked the Colonel in for 3 days, but not for another week. So we made a plan and decided to go off for a week and then come back for the work to be carried out.
Firstly we wanted to spend a couple of days in the mountains around Letaba. On the way we stopped at the tiny village of Haenertsburg (another recommendation), and had a fantastic coffee and cake which was something we’ve not really experienced since we were last in SA nearly a year ago, and we also had a walk around the curio shops. Then it was up and over the massively steep pass, but at the top we planned to use a campsite that is listed on our trusty ioverlander app. This proved to be a bit of a nightmare, we were expecting a steep down into the valley below, and the first kilometre was ok for our Daf (even though the dirt track was quite wet and slippery), then as we turned left towards the camp again it got really steep, and although the owners had concreted two strips to get a bit of traction into your tyres, in our case our wheel tracks were much too wide!! I jumped out and walked the next half kilometre, NO WAY!!! Turning round was impossible so we ended up reversing back to the left hand turn and shunting the truck around until we faced the right way, it was very steep, very slippery, and of course extremely narrow. Both the clutch and the brakes were now smelling. After turning around we let the Colonel have a few minutes rest and then slowly, very slowly edged our 9,500kg bulk back up the steep slippery hill (it had been raining hard that morning) in Low Range 1st gear. Once again our trusty Daf proved his worth. But maybe the owners of the campsite could put a sign up at the road warning of a steep descent? Ok 90% of other vehicles that go camping in SA are 4×4 bakkies, such as a Landcruiser, or Hi-lux, but some people must get stuck coming out of that ravine.
Ok lets go to the town of Tzaneen and camp there, we knew we could get into that one even though the review on ioverlander suggested that the track into the camp was steep. So this time, leaving Jac in the truck, I walked down to the campsite. This time it was definitely not a problem getting down there and out, but the owners and staff were so unfriendly and uninterested in us, that I thought no I’m not paying to stay here, so walked back up to the tarmac to tell Jac “the good news”. By the time I got back, I was really blowing chunks (it was hot and steeper than it looked), we looked at our options (it was still only early afternoon), and decided to head straight for Kruger National Park to the east.
We stayed at a campsite right next to the Phalaborwa Gate, which is roughly half way up the vast National Park, here we decided to buy our Sanparks WildCard. This card which costs about £200 for a couple (international visitor), and allows free access to all South African National Parks and Reserves (over 80 of them) and lasts for 12 months, even giving you a small discount off the camping rates inside Kruger. Its a no brainer, and offers incredible value for money. So we booked a total of 3 nights camping in the NP (2 nights in Letaba, and 1 night in Satara) and headed off, full of expectation of what was to come (game viewing always does this to us, whether we are self driving or in a game vehicle.
Within a few hundred metres of the gate, we saw a group of large mean looking Spotted Hyena’s crossing the road, things were looking good!
As you can see from the photo above Kruger has tarmac roads, in fact a lot of tarmac roads. In our view this really does distract from the feeling of being in a vast national park, its feels more like being on a main road with drastic speed restrictions due to a large number of wild animals being present. We have actually had this scenario in places such a Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana recently, and saw lots of animals on these main roads.
But despite these tarmac highways (which are always busy) there are lots of dirt and sand tracks that you can drive on (usually a loop that comes back onto the same or a different tarmac road), and weirdly there are very few vehicles on these tracks. I don’t understand why this is, as they are by far the best places to view animals and are definitely more picturesque.
Obviously we did see lots of animals, even though it is the summer here and so also the rainy season, which means the animals have an abundance of both food and water, so don’t need to visit the waterholes near the roadsides.
And of course there was the fantastic array of birdlife including these heron’s, storks and spoonbills.
Both the campsites that we stayed at inside Kruger were enormous, and very unattractive, and incredibly both had a “Mugg & Bean” restaurant/coffee shop! Why anyone needs a Mugg and Bean in a place like Kruger I don’t know, and it really is very different to any other national park that we have stayed in on this trip (but the lime milkshakes were very good). I’m sure if it was your first safari experience you’d think it was amazing, but as you can probably tell we had mixed feeling about the place.
At Letaba Camp we were sitting outside in the shade of our awning drinking a nice fresh coffee when suddenly a medium size Monitor Lizard came shooting out from a under rotten branch, about 3 metres from where we were sitting, it was only because he was banging what ever he had is his mouth on a tree truck that we took more notice. He has an enormous black scorpion in his jaws and was determined to kill and eat it.
I was routing for the lizard, we really didn’t want that black scorpion scuttling around our feet (not so safely encased in flip-flops), and eventually sure enough he swallowed its deadly prey. It just goes to show, you never really know whats around you, especially in the dark.
The view from Letaba camp is really nice over the river, and one of the advantages of staying inside the park is that you are allowed to leave the camp in your vehicle at 4.30am, obviously we took full advantage of this and watched the sun rise (at about 5.15am) over the river bank, from the comfort of our cab.
Proberbly the highlight for us over these 3 days was seeing two male Lions by the side of the track, and watching these extremely full bellied animals dosing and rolling in the sun.
And a beautiful family of hyena, on the way out of the park.
We still had a couple of nights left before we had to be back in Polokwana, so we decided to camp at Graskop, and visit the stunning viewpoints that are “Gods Window” and “The Three Rondavels” that look out over the Blyde River Canyon. We visited these on a previous visit to South Africa, and were keen to re-acquaint ourselves to this area. As we climbed the steep “Kowyns Pass” up into Graskop, we entered the thick cloud, and the wet weather. And this is how it stayed for the next 24 hours. You really could not see a thing!!!
This is the view over “Gods Window” from the infinity pool in the campsite, I’m sure it is stunning on a clear day, as pointed out by the owner on his postcards that he had for sale!
Next morning (it was still raining), we set off for the gold rush mining village of Pilgrims Rest, this is a very rare treat for Africa, as its a Heritage Site and all the buildings have preservation orders on them. So after a lovely coffee and pancakes (yup its still South Africa) in a fantastic coffee shop “Pilgrims Pantry”, we went off for a wander round the village.
Pilgrims Rest has got a strange English and Scottish feel about it, not only from the old British built buildings but also from the wild green hills and forests around the village.
After leaving Pilgrims Rest you are almost straight into “Robbers Pass”, we were warned by someone in the village that it was pretty steep in places, so at the base we selected low range (you need to be stationary to do this really), and very slowly (3rd gear low range mostly) we chugged our way up to the top, and the view was breathtaking, and it had finally stopped raining.
While Colonel K cooled, we chilled and took a few daft photos.
We are now back in Polokwane, at Boma in the Bush, and have been without our home for 5 days (originally 3 days but Friday is a Public Holiday here), and we are in a self catering chalet (uninsulated shed with a tiny kitchen and an even smaller bathroom), but its pretty cheap at £30 a night and we can cook for ourselves.
We were picked up on Saturday morning by a guy from the workshop, as the work had been completed. After a 10km high speed ride in the back of an open pick-up, I walked up to the truck to find a worker still on the roof, no problem I guess its the finishing touches being applied, that is until I climbed up on the cab roof to find him starting to remove the leaking solar panel, he was only just starting, not finishing!!! what the hell? next we looked inside, there was rain water everywhere, it was obvious that it had been parked outside for the 4 days out in the massive thunderstorms that we had experienced from the safety of our “shed” over the previous days. No one bothered to park it in the workshop, and we have learnt that to stop the leak finding its way inside we always park it slightly on a slope, this was parked on completely level ground, I seriously went into orbit. I refused to leave, and supervised and helped the worker seal and refit the solar panel (by this point my confidence in the company to do a decent job have evaporated). It was a Saturday and they close at 1pm, so I will spend most of Monday at the workshop, again making sure that the work is done right.
We got another bakkie ride back to Boma in the Bush, and a South African family that are on the site kindly invited us over for a braii (a barbecue to us brits), it was also a great excuse to get just a little drunk. Jake, Mary-Ann, and their two lovely kids Ethan and Storm, were fantastic and treated us to a mammoth meat eating session, oh and a very welcome drinking session.
We had a fantastic evening, in great company, but Jake and Mary-Ann also invited us to go with them to Debengeni Falls the next day (Sunday). So, with six people tightly packed into Jake’s Renaut Clio, we set off, obviously stopping for a quick beer en-route, we really had a great day. The kids had a ball in the ice cold waters in the mountains, using the slippery rocks as slides into the rock pools.
After the freezing kids had warmed up, we trekked back up to the car and stopped at a nearby village and had a really nice leisurely meal. This was exactly what we needed after the issues with the workshop, a day out with a really lovely family.
Hopefully the God of Trucks will be kind to us and the complete idiots at Limpopo Caravans and Camping will finish the work on Colonel K’s roof and we can get back living in our mini mobile house, then its off to a supermarket to stock up with essentials, and then head off towards Pietermaritzburg (inland from Durban) where we have been very kindly invited to spend Christmas on a friends parents farm.
I would like to wish all 30,000 people that have viewed lorrywaydown over the past two years a very merry Christmas, and all the best for the coming new year. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our little “jolly” as much as we have travelling and telling you about it.
Once again thanks for reading, and see you on the other side of the New Year
Whilst camped in Pioneer Camp, just to the East of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, we were sharing a beer or two with a German couple that we had met previously in South Luangwa, when we heard a truck pulling into the camp it was dark and we couldn’t see who or what it was, but assumed as usual it was a “tour bus” or as we like to call them “magic bus”, or “happy bus”. Off we went to bed only to find out, with great surprise in the morning, that the truck parked no more than 20metres away was not only a private truck, but it was a British registered Leyland Daf T244 (a clone of our very own Colonel K).
It wasn’t long before the owners Clare and Ed appeared and came over for a chat, we compared notes about our journeys and the trials and tribulations of long term travel in a 10 tonne truck in Africa. It was then that we noticed further movement in the back of their Daf, they are travelling with two teenage boys (Jack and Harry)!!! Now thats hardcore in a small box, especially as all four travel up front in the cab.
Whilst we have seen many T244’s here in southern Africa, this was the first one that we had seen as a converted camper like ours, and once again it seems that the trucks are very strong and seem ideal for travel in the harsh environment of Africa. The main problem that Ed has experienced was a broken gearbox, which they had rebuilt and then it failed again shortly afterwards, obviously not rebuilt correctly. But generally most issues have been small and easily sorted en-route due once again to the mechanical simplicity of the Daf. It was great to catch up with some fellow Brits (we are a rare breed in these parts, once outside South Africa and Namibia), and instead of an early start to avoid the mad city traffic of Lusaka (there is no route round the city, you have to drive through the centre) we didn’t leave Pioneer camp until late morning.
The plan was to stop at German Truck Tech (the workshop that sorted our issues on our way north, about 6 months earlier), and get Colonel K booked in to sort out the fuel leak from the diesel return pipe, then stop a few days at nearby Eureka Camp until the work was able to be done. As it happens the owner, Carsten very kindly got his guys to do the work there and then, it took them a couple of hours, including a good dosing of diesel over their faces and clothes, and we were on our way. When I asked Carsten how much I owed him, he said just give the lads a drink! I can’t imagine that in the UK.
For a city campsite Eureka is actually not too bad, but since we were last here they have put their prices up by quite a bit, and wow was it noisy. It was Friday night, and the start of the weekend, and the bar and pool area was packed with local day visitors. The noise still doesn’t seem to deter the Zebra and the Giraffe from wandering in through the gate though, despite the staff trying half heartedly to keep them out.
From here we drove via an overnight stop at Moorings camp, to Livingstone. As we entered the town we were hit by a wall of noise from the trees, it was a mass of Cicada, and it was so loud you really needed ear defenders, it was unbelievable, but once through the trees it was quiet again. We decided to stay at the same campsite we used before on the banks of the river, as its such a beautiful spot and the ablutions are very nice too. Guess what ? As we pulled into the campsite we spotted another British registered vehicle, this time a Landrover Defender, owned by Scott and Helene. We ended up staying for about a week here and had a great time hearing about Scott and Helene’s travels and adventures. They had actually been at Muramba camp for several weeks, as the Landrover dealer in town had completely rebuilt their Defender including a replacement chassis, and many new panels etc, and of course a complete respray. The Landy looks like new, very smart indeed.
But this was only part of the story of their journey with the Defender, every tale that this great couple told involved an issue with a breakdown or just a broken vehicle, but the Landy had made it this far!!! Those of you that are familiar with that fantastically funny British Sitcom “Only fools and Horses”, will understand that their vehicle has been renamed “Triggers Broom” (google it)!!!!
One great part about travelling without too tight a time frame is that we get lots of time for reading, and our Kindles are used a lot (having read well over 100 books on this trip over the last 20 months). Scott has got literally hundreds of books on his laptop and a program to convert the files into a kindle friendly format, so in exchange for a beer at the bar, he loaded over 200 books onto my Kindle and a similar number onto Jac’s unit. Thats going to save us a few Bob in the future.
The river at Muramba is very different to when we were here last time, it was absolutely clogged with weed in places, but there were still huge hippos and crocodiles around and to watch out for.
One evening we were sitting outside (in the dark) cooking dinner, when two huge hippos appeared, grazing near us, and getting closer. At one point one of them was less than 5 metres from us, but then thankfully these huge animals moved away a bit, at the same time Scott was returning from the ablutions (shower and toilet block), walking cautiously looking left and right, when out of the darkness a huge two tonne hippo charged at him, showing his tonsils in all their glory! Luckily the startled hippo and the even more startled Scott, didn’t actually physically meet, but it just goes to show these dangerous animals need respect (the hippo, not Scott). I got a feeling after his little night time meeting, Scott probably could have done with visiting the ablutions again.
This is the start of the summer here and so the start of the rains, and of course we have a couple of leaks, one requires the solar panel to be removed, and the other is leaking through our air conditioning unit, both we hope will be sorted out when we get to South Africa, until then we just need to manage the situation (we have covered the air-con unit with an off cut of tarpaulin) and try to park with the front slightly higher that the rear, so water runs away from the solar panel.
Whilst at Livingstone we had a fantastic lunch at The Waterfront, and sat overlooking the mighty Zambezi River just before it hits Victoria Falls, it really is a lovely setting for a gin and tonic, and a beer, and although the falls aren’t as spectacular at this time of year, due to the lack of water, its still a very big river here.
From Zambia the shortest route into neighbouring Botswana is via the ferry at Kazungula. This ferry can be a nightmare, as its notoriously unreliable, extremely busy with trucks, and very very slow. Only one truck can go on the ferry at one time with the remaining space taken up with smaller vehicles such as cars and pedestrians. This is the main crossing point for all commercial vehicles going north into Zambia, DRC, Malawi etc, and going south into Botswana and South Africa (Zimbabwe and Mozambique are not used due to cost, road conditions etc). By the time we had driven the 50km from Livingstone to the turning to the Kazungula Ferry, we realised that the queue of trucks to the ferry was at least 20km long (I would guess about a weeks queueing for a truck, maybe more). Whilst we would have just driven Colonel K to the front of the queue (very embarrassing but acceptable as we are tourists and not a goods truck), we decided to avoid the hassle and carry on north and cross the bridge into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Yes, it was an extra couple of hundred kilometres, and yet another border crossing, but time is one thing we have in abundance, and Im sure the borders will be more civil and organised.
Within 5km we could see why not many vehicles come this way, the tarmac road was shocking, huge potholes, and broken sections. In many places it was far easier to drive off the “road” on the sand, as the edge of the tarmac was completed gone. This next 50-80km took forever, and there were lots of broken vehicles littering the route. After a few hours we reached the bridge that formed the border between Zambia and Namibia, at least this should be smooth going. Indeed leaving Zambia was a polite and easy experience, that soon changed once we got to the Namibian Customs. After receiving our entry stamp at immigration (we only asked for a few days as we are literally only crossing the short Caprivi Strip to Botswana), we moved across to the Customs desk, where a woman with serious attitude stood facing us. She completely refused to acknowledge my existence and wouldn’t look at me, she would only communicate with Jac, we presented her with our Carnet de Passage, and she refused to stamp it into Namibia, saying that it wasn’t needed!!! I tried to explain that we must have it stamped into every country and out of every country or we my lose our bond with the Carnet issuing company, still she wouldn’t look at me, or acknowledge me. Eventually after lots of huffing and puffing and a huge physical effort of her lazy fat arse part, she stamped the Carnet into Namibia. Welcome to Namibia eh.
We overnighted on a campsite on the river and stocked up with a huge amount of “dog fuss”, from the camps four dogs.
Next stop the border from Namibia into Botswana, this time the Namibian border was a much more friendly affair, then it was over the river to the Botswana border. As we approached the small border post we had to drive the truck through a disinfectant dip, and then as we approached the tiny building Jac noticed a sign says that no uncooked meat, or dairy products are to be taken into Botswana, bugger, we had just stocked up at the supermarket in Livinstone, and hadn’t realised this restriction. Now bearing in mind that all the food for these South African supermarkets comes via Botswana, we guessed it wouldn’t be strictly enforced, and as we hadn’t had time to hide the stuff from the fridge, we would just blag it.
Paperwork was done both friendly and efficiently, and the lovely lady from customs wanted to see the truck before doing our road fund paperwork and insurance (our Comesa insurance expired once we left Zambia). Would she want to check in the fridge for meat or dairy stuffs? No, she was happy, and our paperwork was completed and we were free to go. Well nearly!!!
We were told to stand in a disinfectant mat with our shoes, Jac had to walk through the gate/barrier, while I had to go and get Colonel K. As I approached the barrier an official appeared and asked to see inside the truck. As he climbed the steps, he asked “do you have a fridge?”, yes of course was the answer, as I opened it for him to look inside, we were greeted with a view any Deli would be proud of, sirloin steak, rump steak, bacon, butter, eggs, sausages etc etc! As he bent down to get a closer look inside he asked “do you have any meat or dairy products in here?”, now I quickly had to think about this, was he asking me sarcastically? Was he blind? Or was it a trick question and he was setting me up for a big fine? “No of course not sir, no meat or dairy in here”, he turned and said “ok you may proceed, but you need to place those other shoes under the table onto the mat”. Incredible levels of laziness or incompetence, but our supplies were still intact.
Now that we were the right side of the ferry at Kasungula in Botswana, we stopped for a few days at a newly opened campsite between Kasane and Kasungula, each campsite here had its own private ablutions, but as it had only just opened none of its usual facilities were open, such as the bar or restaurant, and despite the luxury of having our own shower (with hot water no less) and toilet, it just didn’t have much atmosphere to it. All the camp areas were in perfect lines, its was surrounded by a huge fence, it just didn’t feel like a nice place.
Whilst here, we spotted quite a few Bush Baby’s in the trees above us at night, bouncing around from branch to branch and tree to tree, they are fantastic to watch, but with them constantly moving (like tiny possessed monkeys) and the very low light, its impossible to take a photo of them. But we did have a resident Chameleon living in the shrubby bush near us, in the morning he would slowly descend to the ground, turn green to match the grass and then feast on the hatching lace wing type flies (that were appearing from their tiny burrows in their millions after the rains each night) with its amazingly quick tongue.
To show how quickly these creatures change colour, I took the following photos less than 30 seconds apart, as I approached the Chameleon on its branch, it was a very camouflaged grey/brown and blending into the branch perfectly, then I guess it thought “Oh No I’m being looked at, I’d better try green to match the leaves”! Instantly he went green, a fantastic thing to witness.
After staying here for a few nights to catch up on washing clothes (again!) we started moving south in Botswana towards South Africa, next stopping at a nice campsite in Chobe, where guess what? We had our own ablutions again, two camps in a row! There is a pumped water hole in front of the main bar, and although there is plenty of water around the area, the elephants still came and visited the waterhole. There were also a large troop of baboons that live nearby and walk through the camp all day looking for opportunities to steal anything, its a constant battle for the staff to keep these away, and every respectable camper really should have his own catapult with them, most of the time you don’t need a stone in it, just pulling back on the elastic is enough to see them scuttling off.
Mmmmmm African bugs, again! It really is a constant battle against bugs here, from biting ants to cockroaches, from biting spiders to Malaria carrying mosquitoes, we’ve had them all in the truck, and outside it. Our constant companion since we left Mauritania has been our mossy net over our bed, we always have copious amounts of insect spray for inside the truck, and repellent for your skin. These little critters will make a nest anywhere given the chance. One example of this was when we were at Chitimba camp in Malawi, we used our outside gas bottle and head to make a fresh coffee (our no1 luxury item) first thing in the morning, and although it worked the flame wasn’t great coming out of the burner head. A couple of hours later (after doing a load of clothes washing!), we decided another coffee was needed, this time there was no gas coming out of the head at all. In the end Eddie the owner blasted it through with his high power air line, and out popped some spots of dried dirt from the air holes. Perfect, coffee was brewed and drunk and the burner was working great. We then went for a swim in the lake and returned to find quite a large fly buzzing around the gas head, the bugger had filled all four air holes with compacted dirt again, all in less than a hour! Another blast with Ed’s airline and now the gas bottle is stored away while not in use. We had a similar looking fly start to build a mud nest on one of our wall pictures, another had built up a much bigger construction on our spare tyre on the rear of the truck. Its a never ending battle, that Jac is now much braver dealing with, “oh theres another cockroach, pass the spray”, or “Vinnie, I think there might be maggots in the Sog filter again”.
This is one massive flying beetle that was in our sink one morning (our outside campsite sink, not inside the truck, that would be gross), as you can see by the size of it against the tap head, its a big ‘un.
Our next stop on our journey south was one of our favourites, Elephant Sands, and it didn’t disappoint, there were elephants here almost all the time, sometimes only one or two, at other times,usually at night, there could be 40 or more at the waterhole, often causing these usually gentle giants to allow tempers to flare, especially among the young bulls.
At Elephant Sands we met some fantastic young travellers, first of all we had two young French girls pull up with their rental 4×4 complete with roof tent . They were on a three week trip and were planning to originally just visit SA and Namibia, but just like us plans are for changing, and they were now in Northern Botswana without a map or any guide books. After a quick chat with them we gave them our maps and guide books and few tips, they then spent the whole evening in the bar area, pouring over the maps etc and making a new plan for the next few days. These girls had some guts to do this on their own.
Next up, (as we were talking to the French girls), a young German couple arrived, took one look at the massive elephants roaming around the place and asked if they could camp next to our truck in their ground tent. Fabian and Janika didn’t put their tent up that night and thought it was safer to sleep in the car! The next day, they decided to stay another 24 hours at Elephant Sands, and we discussed about where they should reposition their car, and where they should erect their tiny two man tent. I’m still not sure that Janika slept much that second night, as at about 6.00am she went over to the pool area and had a sleep on one of the sun loungers. This is the first leg of a nine month round the world trip for this young German couple, going next to South America, then Australia etc, they left school, worked hard for a year and saved every euro that they could before they start their University courses in a years time. We discussed their budget, and it goes to show that you can do these trips on very little money if you really want to.
Here at Elephant Sands we had a new type of pest aboard Colonel K, a bigger pest, but slightly more worrying. We had a bloody mouse on board!!! The first sign was a munched banana in the cupboard along with lots of droppings.
Then that night we were woken up by what can best be described as someone chewing a coke can, it was obviously coming from the void behind the kitchen cupboard units, where all our water pipes and electric cables run, not good! Definitely not good!!! A quick bang on the wall or ceiling stopped it for about 20 seconds then off he went again, I got up emptied all the cupboards, taped up all the small gaps and hoped he might leave of his own account, next night was a repeat, he was still resident at Hotel Mouseville. The next morning we were leaving the camp and I noticed that under the truck were very tiny footprints, could it be, I wonder he was just coming in to the truck at night and then going home to his burrow in the sand for the day? Yep we never saw or heard from the little desert mouse again, it appears no damage was done, and to this day we can’t see where he got in and out of Colonel K.
We planned one night at a campsite just before Francistown, which was about 10km down the old “Hunters Road”
Woodlands Camp was a very pleasant surprise and we ended up staying for two nights, the stunning pool here was just too tempting, and the birdlife is so profific, including the Woodlands Woodpecker (from where the camp gets its name). In flight this has to be the most striking and stunning bird we’ve seen, with flashes of brilliant blue and white, even its bill is special, the top is bright red and bottom is black, they greet another Woodlands with an amazing display of open wings to each other, a really stunning bird.
There were also Guinea Fowl, and Go-Away Birds, and Crested Barbet
Although it was quite a detour, we decided to visit a community run nature reserve about 30km from the town of Serowe, towards the centre of Botswana, its called Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and whilst it is a closed in area, it is pretty big at 4,300 hectares of Kalahari sandveld and because it’s near a military base, the Rhinos are basically given 24 hour protection by the Botswana Defence Force. Its a great place, and they have received Rhino here from many places including South Africa, where it was felt that the danger from poachers was too great for the Rhinos. At Khama they offer camping and chalet type accommodation, and very reasonable game drives.
The campsite has very real wild feel to it, indeed it is not fenced and animals roam through here all the time, we were told that there are a large number of leopards in the reserve.
We decided to have a early morning guided game drive (the sand here in the park is very deep) and it was only $55.00 for the two of us for a two hour private game drive. At six the next morning our guide pulled into our camp area, and worryingly started looking at the sand by the truck “oh I see you had a friend last night” at first we couldn’t see anything then she pointed out the track of a snake as it had pushed itself along on the soft sand.
If you want to see Rhino in their natural environment, Khama is a great place and during our two hours in the back of the Landcruiser, we saw a total of 19 White Rhino, including a group of 9 with youngsters. It really is such a shame that they have to be placed into a reserve like this to help protect them from a truly ridiculous trade, with the end product (ground rhino horn) being sold to idiots thousands of miles away!
Obviously there are lots of other animals on the reserve, including Giraffe, Black Backed Jackal, and many others.
Next we head for the border and cross into South Africa, where we have very kindly been invited to camp on a friends parents farm in the east of the country.
Sorry I’m a bit behind with the blog, but will try to get up to date over the next few days.
Thanks for reading
First stop after saying goodbye again to Eddie and Carmen at Chitimba Camp in Northern Malawi, was Mzuzu to replenish our much depleted larder. There are certain things that just can’t be bought locally and on the streets, important things like decent bread, and items that needs to be kept in a refrigerator like butter, cheese and yoghurts. And most important of all, you can only get YYCCPB in South African supermarket chains.
The drive up from Lake Malawi onto the high plateau of the west of the country is epic, it climbs seemingly for ever, and in places we were down to 2nd gear for long periods in Colonel K. The tarmac is good on this stretch of road and despite the steepness and the slowness of our travel, we were still catching up and overtaking several fully loaded trucks as they crept up this marathon climb. It also gave us time to reflect on the travels of an English couple that we met at Chitimba a few months previously. Lloyd and Emily were cycling from Nairobi to Capetown and the day they left us they were going to do this epic climb in the mid day heat, respect to these guys, and I can’t wait to read about their adventures (no pressure Lloyd !).
Anyway, Shoprite Supermarket in Mzuzu didn’t disappoint, I virtually cleared them out of Yum Yum Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter, and we managed to get almost everything that we needed. After a quick chat with a few locals, and a trip to a bank for some Malawian Kwatcha, we found a great new backpackers with camping right behind Shoprite. This place is owned by a South African couple, and despite having a fridge full of fresh produce we decided to eat in their bar/terrace, he recommended pizza. Wow, these pizzas were amazing, we have had pizza before on this trip and they have always disappointed, not this time…… delicious. As with Chitimba, we also had a dog fest, with three crazy dogs protecting us and our truck overnight we felt safe in this town centre camp (in truth the dogs weren’t needed as it is a very safe place anyway).
Before we left Mzuzu the next morning, I ended up chatting to the same locals as the day before (Jac had gone back into Shoprite to try for some freshly baked bread). After explaining to them what a “Cockney” is, and why they can’t understand a Liverpool footballer being interviewed with a” Scouse “accent despite the fact that they are english. Oh and to try and convince one of them that he shouldn’t be supporting Arsenal! As I started Colonel K’s engine one of them turned around, and said “we like taking to you, you don’t tell us to go away!” I took this as a compliment but also explained that once I had told them “I wasn’t going to buy anything off of them or going to give them anything” they didn’t ask again, so I enjoyed chatting to them. Will they learn this lesson?
Last time we were in Malawi we followed the route along the lake, just with the occasional trip up into the hills, this time we were staying up on the highland route, which really is stunning.
We decided to stop at a lodge and campsite in Luwawa Forest, which promised a very different side to Malawi that we were keen to see (away from the huge population of the lakeside areas). Looking on a map or indeed our trusty Garmin, we saw that there were three ways into the forest from the main tarmac road. The first turning that we came to actually had a sign for Luwawa Forest Lodge, so we took this track. It very quickly became apparent that we would need to select Low Range in the transfer box, as this route had a lot of sections of deep sand, and it was quite steep in places (this is the end of the dry season in Malawi and the rains are expected soon), but after 15km we arrived at the campsite deep in the forest.
The lodge is run by an English couple, George and Christine and it has a real feel of the old colonial days about it, especially in the evenings where after having a beer or a G&T on the terrace overlooking the stunning garden, you can retire to the lounge complete with settee’s and arm chairs and finish your drinks in-front of a roaring log fire in the brick built fire place (not that a fire was needed, it was so bloody hot there!).
We stayed here for 4 nights, and early every morning we took a map from reception, and followed a different walk into the forest each day. The walks ranged from 2 hours to 4 hours long, and though it may have been reasonably cool when we left Colonel K, by the time we go back it was very hot indeed. One thing the walks had in common was that they were all through stunning scenery.
They have a huge problem with forest fires here on the Viphya Plateau, mostly caused by illegal charcoaling and logging for domestic cooking. There is also the issue of illegal logging where they sell to timber mills in the forest, the government have done nothing to stop this practice and the forest is disappearing at an unbelievable rate.
One morning we were walking up in the hills, along a very narrow path, when we heard voices off to our right, to see what was going on I climbed up on an old termite mound and looked down into the gully below. At first I couldn’t see anything, but then the guys below spotted me, they had built a “pit saw” over the gully and were using a “Push-Pull” logging saw and were ripping down a huge log into manageable planks. On seeing me, a “Mzunga” (white man), they grabbed their belongings and ran off up the hill opposite and away into the deeper forest. I was glad that we didn’t get closer to them before they saw us as the outcome could have been very different, but it does highlight how big a problem this is. In four days of walking in the forest we saw very little wildlife other than birds and small reptiles, the fires and logging (which seem to go together) are devastating this environment.
The lodge owner was telling us that the only way this is going to change is to take the forests out of Government hands and put areas under the control of non-profit organisations that manage the replanting and the foresting operations. This has been done with great success in a few small areas. He also told us how the UK government had paid millions of pounds to Malawi to organise the rest of the forests and put into non-profit organisations, this was all sorted out with the organisations in place, and then at the last minute the Ministry in Malawi withdrew the plan. The millions from the UK have strangely disappeared and the forest is still also disappearing…….
The colours in these hills are stunning, with wild flowers coming up through the burnt areas, and we even found some wild Blackberries and Raspberries.
But George and Christine’s constant lobbying to the Malawi Government, seems to have at last been listened to, while out walking one morning we were approached by a platoon of Malawian soldiers piled into a Land Cruiser, it seems that this small band of armed soldiers are to carry out patrols in the forest, and punish (really “beat the hell out of”) anyone that they find illegally operating in these areas. As Christine rightly said, “how can you fine someone that has nothing?”. Time will tell if this initiative works, and for how long the army will stay here in the forest.
Our last walk took us to the highest point of the forest, to the manned “Luwawa Fire Tower”, the last part of this walk is very steep and in an area devoid of trees so offered no shade at all, but it was well worth the climb. On a clear day (it was a little hazy) you can see Lake Malawi one way and across into Zambia the other way.
Obviously I had to climb the fire-tower, and I really don’t have an issue with heights, but this little gem was a different kettle of fish. It was a concrete tower with a very dodgy wooden staircase, every tread was a different size and height, the hand rail wasn’t fixed in most places and the stairs were seriously steep and completely mobile!
Despite it being the dry season, the “fire spotter” wasn’t at home, but we were told by another guy, “that he may be in later”………mmmmmm. Hope there are no big fires today then!!!!
A short walk from the campsite is a beautiful little lake (lakes in Africa are known as a Dam), the owner told us that the lake holds a “population” of Wide Mouthed Bream so after digging out my fishing gear, we walked down to the nearest part of the lake which is accessed via a very long board walk made up of very rickety and rotten timbers. This took us across a long marshy stretch, and poor old Jac seriously struggled with the flexing and moving of the timbers below her.
The water here was so murky and muddy, but ‘what the hell?’ lets give it ago anyway.
Within two casts I realised that it was less than a foot deep for as far as I could cast my lure! Bugger, we need a rethink, then George the owner appeared along the boards and suggested that we walk further round to the “Dam wall”. So then I thought, is the dam wall a dam for the lake, which is actually called a dam anyway? Whoa this crazy terminology is sooo confusing. Actually the lake was originally build by the British to provide a reliable source of water for the replanting of the forests in the 1950’s.
The water here was much deeper from the dam wall, but the problem now was that this wall is used as a thoroughfare from the forest into the local village and we were being watched by a multitude of locals as they made their way home. I told Jac, that there was no way that I’m leaving Luwawa Forest until I caught a Wide Mouthed Bream!
Sometimes in life you just can’t keep promises, I never did catch one of those elusive fish from Luwawa Dam, but that night while talking to George and Christine, he did let slip that if he can gain full control of all the shores of the dam, he will carry out a restocking programme. As a fisherman, I took that to mean all the locals had stolen ALL the fish out of the bloody lake.
The last two evenings that we were at Luwawa Lodge, it rained, and the last night it rained a lot, for quite a long time. This worried me a little as we had seen the state of the track when we arrived, if the sandy dust turned to deep mud we could be in trouble, but luckily we spoke to George who told us to leave on a slightly better track that the logging trucks use, but we should leave early before the commercial boys start to chew it up and turn it to rutted deep mud. We needn’t have worried, this track was much better and despite it being very slippery in places, Colonel K managed the track with ease.
We decided that rather than “hack it” to the border with Zambia, we would stop in the Malawian capital Lilongwe for a couple of nights, this would give us a full day in town to ‘do shopping’, ‘do lunch’ and (Jac hoped), to ‘do ice-cream’!
We parked and camped at a well known backpackers place in the city centre, and were surprised how busy it was, of course about 90% of people here were “Volunteers” either just finishing their short stint in a school or orphanage, and having their holiday in Malawi now, or they were having their holiday before their “voluntary” spell in a school or orphanage. Perhaps I sound rather cynical about aid and volunteers in Malawi, and if I do thats because I am. I’m not sure what good it does to go into a rural Malawian school, or orphanage for 4-6 weeks and then leave again, but I guess it looks good on a CV.
A quick ride into town in one of the little “Tuk-Tuk’s” for about £1.00, and we were doing, shopping, lunch and even ice-cream. I even managed to find yet another tub of YYCCPB in a Shoprite, RESULT!
After crossing the border into Zambia, we stopped for a night in the town of Chipata, and paid our bill for camping that evening with a plan to leave early the next morning en-route to Lusaka. After sitting down with a Gin and Tonic though we decided that we couldn’t leave this area without visiting one of our favourite places of this trip, the South Luangwa Valley and National Park. It would mean a round trip of 300 kilometres, but we thought we may never come back again, it also meant that we didn’t need to get up at “stupid o’clock”.
Wildlife Camp in South Luangwa did not disappoint! On our way into the campsite we passed a couple of elephants, and once parked up and a quick look around showed many more elephants in the vicinity. There is no shortage of elephants here…..
We were last here at the end of May, and then the river was full and flowing fast, it was full of hippos and crocodiles, but now in November its a very different place.
Our original plan was to pay for a night game drive into the National Park, and last time we did this we had an amazing safari experience. But now it seemed that not much was being spotted in the Park, and that we were seeing just as much from our camp on the river bank and at the waterhole in the campsite, so we saved our $150 (the cost for the two of us including park fees), and just savoured the animals that we could see.
Ever seen a” Pig in Stilleto black boots ” ?!!
Without visiting the National Park, over the 4 days that we stayed at Wildlife Camp we saw elephants, hippos, many types of antelope, warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, mongoose, giraffe, plus others, at night we heard quite close by (possibly in the camp) the amazing sounds of lion and hyena. The only animals that we might have seen on a paid night drive were cats such as leopard, lion and other smaller cats. But we had no regrets with not going on a paid evening game drive, our previous game drives from both Zikomo Lodge and Wildlife Camp were amazing experiences and I think this time would have been a slight anti-climax.
Since we were last at Wildlife Camp they have made quite a few changes, including a new hide at the main water hole, we spent quite a long time in there watching herds of elephants coming and going, usually en-route to reek havoc in the nearby village, ripping up vegetables and eating fruit. But also here we saw a beautiful monitor lizard, and just to show how diverse the wildlife is here I managed to get all in one shot a tiny squirrel, a love-bird and a starling.
Whilst you really have to respect the baboons here, they can be fascinating to watch (perhaps even more so the vervet monkeys), and the “big daddy” of the troop did make us laugh as every day he would plant himself on a picnic bench as if he was “lording it up”, watching his troop and keeping them in line, especially the youngsters. These primates are great to watch, but they are a real pain, especially the vervet’s as they are so bloody fast, they appear from nowhere (usually hiding in the trees above you), and can pinch your treasured apple from the table in a flash, or your hat, sunglasses, phone, in fact anything.
The rest of our time here, when not watching animals, was spent in or around the small pool. It was a lovely way to cool off, and the view across the river and towards the National Park is stunning.
Its not the cheapest place to camp (and a beer is $2.00), but at $10 per person per night, its an absolute bargain.
Within 5 km of Wildlife Camp), we saw not one, but three ex-British army T244 Leyland Daf’s (same as Colonel K in a previous life), all in unconverted flat bed condition including the one below which is used by the camp for fetching supplies. We also saw another a few days later on a campsite near Lusaka. It just goes to show how many of these trucks have been shipped to Africa and registered locally, so far we have seen them in camps in Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya. I think this also proves that getting spares for these trucks isn’t such an issue as you would think, many parts are not exclusive to the T244, and they are super simple to fix.
So safe in the knowledge that we had saved $150 by not going on a game drive, we set off on the 150km drive back to Chipata for the night, only for Jac to suggest that we stop at the “factory” of Tribal Textiles…….. Money eh, easy come easy go…….
Tribal Textiles, is a great initiative, owned and run by an English couple, but it employs over 100 men and women from the local community. All designs are set out and coloured by hand, ensuring all items are unique, even the dyes (100% natural) are mixed by hand, using the eye to match the paint/dye to a colour wanted by the “painter” as shown on a colour chart.
As a full blooded male, I guess I’m not really into soft furnishing, but the designs displayed really are very nice. They export all over the world, and do have an on-line shop if you fancy spending a bit of cash on a good cause. I know they are looking to make a profit, but they do offer a large number of people full time employment and also support local issues such as the new primary school. In many ways I think this is money better spent than sending it to a large non-profit organisation only for it to go to yet another $60,000 Toyota Landcruiser! The workforce seemed immensely proud of the goods that they turn out here and the job that they do.
The drive from Chipata to Lusaka is a gruelling 600km, and we ended up doing this in one day, it took 11 hours, but generally the road surface is good, and in true African style they have built a fancy new bridge (with a police road block of course), that is only wide enough for one vehicle and slightly more concerning only one truck is allowed on the bridge at anyone time!
I would guess that on this 600km stretch there are about 15-20 road blocks of one kind or another (this is quite a low number for an African country), most of which in Zambia you just get waved through (after slowing right down or actually stopping), but one of these road blocks stands out as a REAL waste of time. At this particular barrier we were approached by an un-armed guy, with what could only be described as a large white “butterfly net”. The usual questions started “where are you going”, “where have you come from”, then after explaining that we have come from South Luangwa, he looked concerned and grasped his butterfly net tighter “I am looking for Tsetse Flies, I need to check inside your vehicle”. I replied “we don’t have any Tsetse Flies, there are no Tsetse Flies in our vehicle”, with that he lowered his butterfly net, and said “ok you may proceed”, the barrier was raised and off we went, like I said a real waste of time!
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After leaving the generally super smooth tarmac of Rwanda behind, and once again being amazed at the smoothness of the border operation (a one stop shop), it was a shock hitting the broken, pot holed roads of northern Tanzania. The first 100km was horrendous, and took forever, much of it taken at not much more than walking pace, you really don’t want to break-down in these parts! This is a major border crossing and an important trade route, we passed (in both directions) many many trucks loaded up, including dozens of fuel tankers. And the number that were broken down, or just merely “broken” on this “road” was unbelievable. Rwanda must look across their border and shake their heads at the mess on the other side.
This part of our journey south took so long we ended up staying in the front of a very grotty guest house in Nyakanazi that seemed set up to supply budget (very budget) rooms for truck drivers, none of which were en-suite. We agreed a price to camp in their “secure carpark” (well there was an armed guard), and were shown the shared toilet and shower. Lets just say that thank god for our onboard toilet and shower!!!!! That was a very noisy night, as we were in the centre of a scruffy little town, and many of the trucks were coming and going very early in the morning, probably to get an early start on that shocking road.
The other shock entering Tanzania from Rwanda is the state of the place. Rwanda is by far the cleanest, tidiest country in Africa, with zero rubbish anywhere, here in the early morning light there were plastic bags, bottles etc everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, Tanzania isn’t particularly dirty, it’s just a normal African country with lots of rubbish lying around, but Rwanda proves that it doesn’t have to be like this. We ended up staying in a couple more hotel carparks (obviously sleeping in the truck), but usually we were given a room to use the shower and toilet. This is not on the usual tourist route, and there are no camping facilities.
This part of northern Tanzania is quite green and as you go past the southern part of Lake Victoria, it starts to get a lot drier and more arid, and the population really starts to thin out, mostly I guess because of the lack of water.
So what does an African President do with such a huge dry, empty area in the centre of his country? Surely its obvious…….. Move the capital and that includes the parliament, administration, all the foreign embassies, etc, etc to Dodoma, a tiny town with no infrastructure to cope with this, like I say its obvious….. We drove through this little town, right in the centre of what I called “The Badlands”, and witnessed the huge amount of money that the government must be spending on this crazy “pet project”. Where the hell they are going to house all these people that are coming here to work, and more importantly, where is the water going to come from (its about 600km to Lake Victoria), I really don’t know. We heard from one person that the US has refused to relocate their American Embassy from Dar Es Salaam, at the cost of millions of dollars. There are millions of people struggling to live in Tanzania (most aren’t seen by many doing the tourist trail), and all this money is being wasted trying to build a new city where no-one wants to live, like I said CRAZY!
On this road, from Nzega, through Singida, Dodoma, to Iringa (about 1,000km) we devised a new game to pass the hours while driving this very boring stretch of tarmac. Jac listed out the alphabet, A-Z on a piece of paper then we both took it in turns to pick a letter until we had 13 letters each. Then with our iPod set on shuffle in our trusty Sony stereo, we ticked off each letter as an artist came on, e.g. A for Arctic Monkey’s, W for The Who, etc, I was confident of a fairly swift victory, at one point I was 8-4 up and cruising…..
Then Jac started coming back with weird and wonderful “one hit wonders” that I didn’t even know was on there. Within no time (well about 3 or 4 hours) of “banging tunes” Jac was 12-8 up on me, I couldn’t believe it, but I still had hope and she still had a “Q” to get, and we are not big “Queen” fans. 12-9, and it was starting to get tense, and then from no-where “Bohemian Rapsody” popped up from an old compilation album that I didn’t even know we had. I was gutted, Jac was ecstatic, oh how those hours just flew by………..
Also on this road, we both got really mad! We ended up catching up with an open truck full of donkeys, and they seemed nice and calm and not stressed at all (not sure where they were going but it wasn’t looking good for Donkey and Co), then as we were looking to overtake the truck a guy appeared in the back with a huge length of plastic pipe and started hitting the donkeys, for seemingly no reason other than to show off to us. I started blasting our horn at him, but it just seemed to make it worse, he was a nasty bit of work, and we had no option other than to overtake the truck and hope to forget about it. In Europe we aren’t used to this sort of behaviour, but in Africa it is deemed acceptable. Its a side of Africa that we don’t like to see, we know that animals are treated badly and sometimes with contempt, but we certainly don’t have to like it.
After stopping in Iringa to stock up on a few bits and pieces and getting some much needed Diesel in the belly of Colonel K, we camped that night next to some stone age excavations, we were told that the best view of the “ruins” of Isimila was from a short climb up on some nearby rocks.
We sat up on the rocks for quite some time in the early morning sun, it was a really nice spot.
And then unbelievably a dog that had spent the night sleeping under Colonel K appeared, he’d followed us to the top, was he protecting us? Who knows, but once again it was tempting to scoop him up and take him with us.
We decided to once again stop at Kisolanza Farm, we loved it here last time (about 3 months ago on our journey north) and once again it didn’t disappoint. We caught up on all our washing, first day clothes, second day was bedding and towels, oh the romance of long tern overloading eh….
It was nice to be away from the wet seasons of Uganda and Rwanda, but it was back to being hot with a vengeance. Incredibly at Kisolanza Farm we had our hair cut here, yes that included Jac getting her colour or “foils” (what ever that is) done, all carried out very professionally by Layla, in her purpose built salon (shed).
Check out that spooky face in the bottom of the mirror!
We ended up staying here for a week, and did quite a bit of walking late in the afternoon’s once it started to cool off a little, exploring the huge farm here. It really is a beautiful place, and we were made very welcome by the owner Nikki and her staff.
Within the area we were camping, the variety of birdlife was incredible with Waxbills, Finches, etc, all vying for your attention.
From here we had to retrace our steps back to the town of Mbeya, and this meant driving back through the very extended road works. Here in Africa if a road is being upgraded then the easiest way to do it is to put in a temporary road alongside the part to be upgraded. In this case the temporary sections (two of which were about 40km long) are in sand/mud, depending on the conditions and are used by hundreds of trucks, buses, motor bikes, and cars every hour, all at crazy speeds creating zero visibility and mostly in very narrow places. Driving on these parts takes forever, and adds about 3 hours to your journey.
At Mbeya we had to make a decision, our original idea was to drive from Mbeya north westwards up to Lake Tanganyika and cross the border into the far north of Zambia at Mbala, but we met a truck driver that advised us not to use this crossing as he had previously had problems here. The first time he had his diesel syphoned out of his tank, and the second time he had his spare wheel stolen, he also advised us that the first 800km of this rout ,until it gets to the Great North Road is very bad. The other road into Zambia from Mbeya is better but not very interesting, so our other option was to return via Malawi. The main down side of this was cost, visa’s into Malawi are $75 each and the road tax for Colonel K is over $50, but we could go through the country by a different route. After staying at a coffee farm for a couple of nights and trying to find out more information of the Zambia route, with little success we decided to go via Malawi.
The border crossing from Tanzania into Malawi was a joke! It started badly with a guy at a barrier into the Tanzanian side demanding $5 before he would open the barrier to let us in, we refuse. I lost my temper and started revving the engine and threatening to drive straight through the metal barrier, Jac tried polite…… I lost it !!!!!! He opened the barrier, not sure which method worked but we never paid him. Still not one dollar of a bribe has left our pockets on this trip, and it wasn’t going to start with such an idiot trying to rip off a pair of Mzunga’s!
After leaving the Tanzanian side we got to the Malawi border control, paid our $150 for two Visa’a, and went to customs to pay our road tax and get our Carnet stamped, paperwork was done reasonably quickly, but the customs officer told us we had to go to the the cashier around the corner to pay our $52, no problem, the queue was fairly short, with only about 7 or 8 truck drivers (locals) waiting to pay. It was then that we realised that these weren’t the drivers but agents paid to queue up for the truck drivers to sort out their road tax, each person in the queue had a wad of papers to be paid and stamped, maybe up to 20 vehicles worth each. After 30 minutes in the “queue” and not moving an inch, I was starting to get very, very hot (obviously no fans or aircon in these buildings) and agitated, eventually the customs guy saw us and took pity on us, took our paperwork and our $52 and went with it into the rear of the cashier’s office and gave it to the “topman”, we could see a conversation starting and fingers pointing at us from the back of the office, but somehow we had jumped the queue, papers were stamped and we were out of there. All we needed now was the barrier lifted again into Malawi, and in true Malawian style this took another 15 to 20 minutes and another stamp, very frustrating. These truck drivers deserve a medal at these borders, they can be stuck there for days on end trying to get through with their goods, all they want to do is pay their road tax….. crazy.
We couldn’t go into Malawi without stopping at Chitimba Camp and seeing Eddie and Carman the Dutch owners. Last time we went to Chitimba was 3 months ago, we had a great time there and we ended up staying a week, this time the plan was only to stop for a couple of days, then move on. Of course that never happened, its too nice a place and we ended up staying for a week again. As expected we were met very warmly (like old friends) by Ed and Carmen, they weren’t expecting to ever see us again at their lovely backpackers/campsite. This time the place was much quieter, with most of the Overland tour trucks (the happy buses, as we like to call them), now going into their quiet period on their trips from Nairobi to Capetown in about 60 days, and then back again. But we had a great time again, cooling down and swimming in Lake Malawi a couple of times a day.
As always in Malawi, its on the beach at the lake that you meet the locals (or walking to the nearby village), and especially the local kids, and we met some fantastic kids.
We knew we had stayed at Chitimba for maybe a little too long, when one morning as we walked up to the village, we had to go past the local school, and a large number of the kids were running out of the school shouting “Jacqui”, and “Vinnie”, and “SpiderMan” (I must admit I did mention to a few kids the previous day, that I was really SpiderMan), and suddenly they were holding our hands and didn’t want to go back to school!!!! We had to promise them that in return for them going back to school, we would play with them later on the beach.
Eddie Petters is a published photographer, (and a really nice guy), and we were lucky enough to have him on the beach with us for a couple of evenings snapping a few photos of us, the quality is plain to see.
These kids completely wore me out, day after day the kids wanted me to pick them up and throw them into the lake, time after time, it was exhausting, but they were so much fun.
Despite these kids spending most day after school in the lake, virtually all of them cannot swim .Bizarrely a couple of them could swim underwater until they had to come up for air, but none could swim once they were out of their depth, so I decided that the easiest way to have a break from the kids was to tell them that “I was going to swim to Tanzania” (about 50km away, and certainly not visable), so off I would swim out into the deep water, the trouble is about half a dozen of them followed me!!!! All I could hear was “Going to Tanzania”, “Going to Tanzania”………. I had to turn around to stop a drowning accident! I could see the BBC headlines “SpiderMan Drowns Six Malawian Children”, not ideal for our onward travels really.
Once again the kids showed us how agile and flexible they are, and they were proud to show off their skills.
Not once, did we ever see a parent with any of the kids at the lake, its no wonder that they latch onto Mzunga’s that are willing to spend a bit of time with them.
Whilst at Chitimba we saw this very strange pure white frog in the sand, and also a stunning chameleon in a creeping plant.
We also met a few overland travellers at Chitimba Camp, and spent many hours talking about each others varied travels here in Africa. We are definitely a dying breed in Africa so its always good to meet other independent overlanders.
We are going to follow the highland route through Malawi, and stay away from the lake after Chitimba, as we have already seen most of that part of the country. The Lake Malawi shore is stunning so we hope we won’t regret that decision.
Next stop Mzuzu, where theres a nice modern Supermarket, and there is the promise of Yum Yum Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter (the food of Gods) or YYCCPB for short.
Thanks for reading
This blog posted is in two parts, the first part might be a little upsetting to a some people.
Our time here in Rwanda included visiting a few Genocide Memorials, I will describe these in more detail later, but first a little background to what happened, and why.
For hundreds of years, up to 1900, the minority population of Tutsis had ruled over the majority Hutu’s in relative peace, even the Arab slave traders hadn’t reached into Rwanda. Then in 1898 the country was formally absorbed into German East Africa, and things started to change. First of all Germany encouraged the Tutsi monarchy to bring the far northern area of independent Hutu controlled regions under their control, this was be a long running sore that started to cause resentment between Tutsis and Hutu’s that was to last a century.
In 1916, during The First World War, the Belgians invaded Rwanda and Burundi from Congo, and overrun the German forces. After the war, Belgium was handed responsibility for both countries, and like the Germans before them, were amazed at the different physical attributes of each of the three different peoples of Rwanda. The Tutsi chiefs and nobles being mainly tall and lanky, the shorter stockier farming Hutu’s (who formed the majority), and the much smaller Twa (forest dwelling pygmy’s). Even allowing for intermarriage, the differences were mostly plain to see.
The Tutsi monarchy was resistant to Colonialism, and especially the missionaries from the Catholic and later Protestant churches, then in 1931 the monarch was forced by Belgium to abdicate and hand power over to his more western friendly son. At the same time, Belgium embarked on a census to record all indigenous inhabitants, using incredibly, tape measures, scales, and even callipers to measure noses etc. Then in 1935 they issued every person in Rwanda and Burundi with an identity card, which stated whether that person was a Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. If after extensive measuring the Belgium authorities still weren’t sure of a person’s ethnic background, they unbelievably looked at things like cattle ownership, if a person had more than 10 cows they must be a Tutsi, if less than 10 cows, then they must be a Hutu! These Identity cards were still in place up to the Genocide in 1994.
During the run up to independence, the Catholic church became very pro-Hutu, and openly supported political parties run by Hutu’s (the Tutsi had resisted christianity being forced onto Rwanda and Burundi), this time in the early 1960’s was the first time for many years that there was bloodshed between the two main groups. But after hastily manipulated elections the new Hutu based government was sworn in, and quota’s were introduced, giving the Tutsis (who were a minority of 9% of the population) a right to only 9% of school places, 9% of the jobs in the workforce, and so on. This was easy to administer as everyone had an ID card, remember. Many Tutsis fled to Uganda, where supported by the Ugandan Government, formed a political group called the RPF, led eventually by Paul Kagame (the current President of Rwanda), and carried out a guerrilla type war into Rwanda from Uganda. At the same time France was actively arming the Rwandan army and local militia, know as ‘interahamwe’ (meaning “those who stand together”), and behind the scenes plans were being put in place for the extermination of the “problem” Tutsis. The power of the media and especially radio was used to spread hate against the Tutsi people.
On 6th April 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan President and Burundi’s new president was shot down by a rocket fired near Kigali airport, both men died, within hours the killing began. It was well organised, roadblocks were quickly erected, and the army and interahamwe went into action on a rampage of death, torture, rape and destruction. Tutsis, and moderate Hutu’s were targeted (if a Hutu refused to kill his Tutsi friend and neighbour, he and all his family were also killed).
Over the next 100 days (3 months), over one million people were killed, using machetes, hoes, clubs, guns and grenades. The brutality was on an unbelievable scale, and the outside world just watched and talked about it. On 4th July the RPF (the Rwandan Patriotic Front, that had invaded from Uganda) captured the capital Kigali, and two weeks later announced that the war was over, and Paul Kagame was sworn in as head of a Government of National Unity. France sent in 2,500 troops to act as peace keepers, while the UN were still talking about what to do, at no stage was the word “genocide” spoken at the UN, if they had mentioned the “G” word the United Nations would have been legally obliged to ‘prevent and punish the perpetrators’.
As I mentioned earlier there are a number of memorials that have been set up to commemorate the dead and to remind everyone that this must never happen again.
The largest memorial is the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which is the burial ground for a staggering 250,000 people killed on those horrendous 100 days.
The museum section is split into a few sections, the first detailing the run up to the genocide, then in the main section the horrors are gruesomely shown via various exhibits and halls, (its all done every tastefully), and then the last section is devoted to other recent genocide carried out, such as the Balkans, Armenia, Namibia, Nazi Germany, and Cambodia. This is a cruel world.
This was a really emotional place, both inside and outside (remember there are mass graves here, holding over a quarter of a million people), the gardens are under development, and it is encouraged that everyone comes to visit the place (entry is free for everyone). It is managed by Aegis, which is a UK charity, that works to prevent and educate against genocide around the world.
There are many stories told in the Memorial/Museum, many involving heart break, other involving heroics (Hutu’s hiding Tutsis), but possibly the most heart rendering tale that we heard was from the taxi driver that we used for the few days that we were in Kigali. He very tearfully started to tell us that as a young boy he took refuge in a church and had to stay there for 60 days while the genocide raged across the country. Being in a church was not the safe haven that they thought it would be, or indeed those that thought that the catholic priests would protect them. He went on to tell us how one day, the interahamwe came and killed 200 children in front of the others sheltering there, he also told us that no one dared to bring food or water to the church, and so starvation was widespread and towards the end of the 60 days that he spent here, each morning involved the finding of up to 20 more adults and children that had died during the night.
You are allowed to take photos outside in the mass grave and gardens area’s, but somehow it just didn’t seem right, besides we will never forget this place.
The next day we visited two Catholic churches outside of Kigali on the road south, these were both the scene of terrible massacres in 1994. The church at Ntarama was the scene of horrendous acts of barbarity, where over 5,000 people were killed with guns, grenades, machetes, etc, there are piles of clothes on the pews, and coffins inside awaiting burial in the newly built crypts, there were even skeletons under tarpaulins next to the altar waiting to be hopefully identified. But the thing that really hit us at Ntarama was in the Sunday School building, there is still a large blood stain marking the wall in the corner where babies were brought and had their heads smashed against the wall here, sometimes while their mothers watched in horror. There were also large sticks against the wall, which were used to kill women after they had been raped. These were forcibly inserted inside the women until they exited from the upper body.The guide here in this remote place does a tough job with supreme dignity.
We then went to the Church at Nyamata, it was here that over 10,000 people took refuge from the town and nearby areas. On 10th April (only 4 days after the plane was shot down), the militia came and brutally slaughtered every person here. We were invited to walk down into the crypts under the church were many of the skulls are stored, along with a women in a coffin who was killed in the obscene method described above. Once back out into the fresh air we were taken around to the rear of the church to where in three mass graves 45,000 men, women, boys and girls are buried, before we had time to think about it, our guide said we should enter one of the mass graves via a staircase leading under ground and seeing literally thousands of skulls, bones and coffins in that dim light was truly moving. I now know what the true smell of death is like, we will never ever forget seeing those thousands of coffins and bones piled up.
Following the genocide, many people were convicted of their terrible crimes, including a priest that encouraged his entire congregation to shelter in his church then locked them inside, and called the militia who bulldozed the church to the ground with hundreds inside. There were also two Nun’s that were convicted of crimes against humanity.
A survey conducted in 1995 by UNICEF concluded that 99.9% of children in Rwanda experienced violence during those 3 months, and 69.5% witnessed someone being killed or injured. So how can a country recover from something like this?
Well Rwanda has most definitely recovered. Of course there are still raw, terrible memories, (it was only 22 years ago) but generally speaking there are now NO Tutsis or Hutu’s anymore, everyone here is Rwandan, and we have never experienced a country with such a community spirit. For example, once a month on the fourth Saturday of the month, everything stops, traffic, work, cooking, farming, everything for half a day. During this half a day every person in Rwanda, including the President and his family, and tourists, are expected to spend this time working together to clean the streets and generally tidy their environment. The result of this is amazing, the whole country is completely spotless, both in the towns and in rural areas, there is NO rubbish at all. This is also helped by a complete ban on plastic bags (we had our truck checked at the border to make sure we didn’t have any bags on board). The Rwandan’s really do seem to share a common pride for their country.
After crossing the border from Uganda into Rwanda (the quickest and most efficient border crossing we have experienced in Africa), we went into the northern town of Musanze (formally known as Ruhengeri), found a bank and changed some money in Rwandan Francs, then headed out of the town to a backpackers type place called Red Rocks, which amazingly for Rwanda had a camping area.
Red Rocks is run by Harriet, who’s family were originally from Rwanda, before fleeing to Uganda, and then to the United States. Incredibly, Harriet has chosen to leave her relatively easy life as an US citizen to set up Red Rocks here which operates as a community supporting operation. We had a great time here for a few days, especially the last day when an overland tour bus pitched up and Harriet decided that there were enough guests to open up the “night club” at the rear! We would never have expected that we would be dancing to Bob Marley, and local Rwandan music (which was pretty good), under flashing lights and massively loud speakers here in rural Rwanda with a number of locals. A great night though.
We asked Harriet how she thought Rwanda had managed to recover from the devastating genocide, she said a few important decisions were made politically quite early on. One was the decision to drop French as the main “international” language, and teach English at school level (this was a real surprise for us, as we were expecting to have to use our very limited French here), the other was to encourage “forgiveness” against the many perpetrators of the genocide. It really is worth reading about how this forgiveness works here in Rwanda.
This is Harriet and her “crew”.
Next morning while nursing a couple of mildly sore heads, we set off for the capital Kigali (pronounced Ch-igali). This day we found out why Rwanda is known as “The Land of a Thousand Hills”! the terrain is relentless, long steep up, long steep down, long steep up, long……. you get the idea. Rwanda is a small country, about a third of the size of Scotland, but with a population of about 15 million, it means that there are people everywhere. Thankfully the roads are without a doubt the best we have seen during our time on the continent of Africa, the tarmac is mostly “table top smooth” and are mostly without the plague of crazy speed humps. But despite the excellent tarmac, it takes forever to get anywhere because of the steepness of the hills, especially on the descents.
Kigali is a very clean, bright, modern and friendly city. In the 3 days that we spent here, not once were we hassled, or felt uncomfortable walking around, its supposed to have a very low crime rate, and thats exactly how it felt. There is an extraordinary large number of police in the city (and on the roads outside), all very well equipped with machine guns. Also everywhere you go, including hotels, shopping malls, car parks etc, every bag is put through an airport type scanner, and you have to walk through a scanner after emptying your pockets. Security is very tight here against a possible terrorist attack. Again it feels very safe.
There is no camping in Kigali, even the overland tour buses have to stay in a hotel or hostel, so we headed for Hotel Chez Lando on the ‘airport side’ of the city. We tried to convince the staff at the front desk that we would be happy to sleep in the truck in the heavily guarded rear carpark, but in true Rwandan style, said this wasn’t possible as there was a rule staying that no-one could camp here. Rwandans like their rules and regulations. So we took their cheapest room at $94 a night inc breakfast. The room was fine, it was clean, had a decent bed (though not as good as our super mattress in Colonel K), and all was good until I went for a shower. As I turned on the hot water tap over the bath, I heard water running behind me, the high level electric hot water cylinder was pouring out boiling hot water every where, turning off the tap didn’t stop it!!! There was water rapidly flooding our first floor room. After a quick trip to reception they agreed to upgrade us to a room in the ‘new’ block, these were a staggering $154 a night, and the only difference was the bed was a little bigger and the bathroom a bit wider. Next morning we had to move again, this time to a cheaper ground floor room back in the ‘old’ block. Three different rooms in 12 hours not bad eh?
After 3 nights in a hotel room, we were glad to be back in Colonel K, and back on the road. We had planned to head south from Kigali to visit a place called Murambi which is another Genocide Memorial, near the border with Burundi. But we decided that we had seen enough memorials, and visiting Burundi isn’t advisable at the present time due to ongoing troubles there, so we headed east towards Akagera National Park.
Its a shame that we have arrived in Rwanda during the wet season (the ‘short rains’), and this is limiting us as to where we actually want to go. We aren’t actually going to visit any of the national parks, mostly because of both the cost and the rain, and we even decided that its not worth driving over to the far west to visit Lake Kivu because of the weather (we have seen a hell of a lot of large lakes here in East and Central Africa). We also saw the Mountain Gorillas while in Uganda, so there little point in paying to visit Volcano’s NP here in Rwanda. Rwanda does have a lot to offer the tourist, and not just the genocide memorials, its just our timing could have been better!!
We are currently camped at a place called a “Women’s Opportunity Centre”, which really is a great initiative, designed to empower local women, and is typical of Rwanda trying to improve conditions for women. Rwanda has a very high percentage of women politicians, (one of the highest in the world) and this is openly encouraged, some of the thinking behind this is that women hopefully would never let the terrible events of 1994 happen again.
The centre here is a very modern, eco friendly set up, with stunning views over the valley behind us.
Some of the basket weaving that is done here is stunning, and Jac had a good laugh with the women that work together here.
Despite the traumatic experiences at the Memorials, we have enjoyed our short time in Rwanda, yes its quite expensive compared to neighbouring countries (diesel is about 88p per litre, compared to about 57p per litre), and imported shop bought food is crazily expensive, but the generally quite shy people here have been very welcoming, helpful and friendly. Rwanda seems to be doing amazingly well, especially given its recent history.
Tomorrow we head for the border with Tanzania, and the long, long drive through the centre of the country.
Thanks for reading, sorry its a bit grim