With some trepidation, we set out early in the morning for the border crossing from Botswana to Zimbabwe at the Ramokgwebane/Plumtree Border Post. Why some trepidation? Well, Britain really isn’t a favourite of Robert Mugabe, and we are carrying our lovely bright red British Passports, so I guess it was a case of “suck it and see”. The exit from Botswana went efficiently, if not the most friendly of experiences, then it was short drive to the Zimbabwean side, oh well here goes…….
The first sign of the governments anti-British sentiment was getting the Visa to actually enter the country, all citizens from outside Zimbabwe (apart from Southern African countries who pay nothing), pay $20US, but if you are from Britain, Ireland, or Canada you pay $55US ! To be honest we did already know this as we did a little homework before hand, but the immigration guy was almost apologetic about the increased charge. We then had to go to another desk to pay for the Visa’s, then back to get it stamped and inserted into the passport. Then the Carnet de Passage was stamped (so no payment for the Temporary Importation of Colonel K), then we had to pay Carbon Tax ($30US), and when we tried to pay for 3rd party insurance we were told that we didn’t have to pay anything as it is covered under the Carnet by the Zimbabwean AA! I was extremely doubtful about this and continued to ask if I needed to pay it, but apparently no, its included. Everyone at the Zim border was so helpful and friendly, we even had a bit of a laugh with them (honestly this is unknown at African borders). All was going well, perhaps too well……. maybe.
We were told to proceed through to the next stage (this was to hand in our stamped exit fee, and pay the Road Access Fee), there were two lanes, a red route and a green route, and although we were told to drive through the green route (no items to declare), the official in charge insisted that we go through the red route and wait behind a coach. It was chaos! The coach was packed, both with people and goods (ranging from a double mattress, a cycle wheel, a wheel barrow, plus hundreds of bags), every person that was on that coach, and every item was taken off and then EVERYTHING was checked. Jac, went back to the kiosk and asked why we had to go through this red route, we were told that our vehicle must be checked over by “Isaac”, oh no, we are going to be here all day, and the truck is going to get stripped! Then Jac found Isaac, amazingly he stopped what he was doing, asked “do you have any rocket launchers on board?”, then asked to look inside Colonel K, opened a few cupboards, and signed our exit card. No bribes, no thieving, just lots of helpfulness and smiles. Perhaps Zimbabwe is going to be ok for a couple of Brits after all.
We then caused our own chaos by reversing back out of the red route and drove through the green route, and got to the final stage of paying our $20US Road Access Fee. Being left hand drive, Jac usually deals with this stuff at booths etc, and the first I knew of a problem was hearing Jac say “what do you mean, coupons?”. We were told very politely to park the truck (we were blocking the exit from the border), and follow an official back to the main area again. I was convinced that we were about to get shafted big time, especially as we went past Customs and Immigration to a separate building. Inside were two Road Agency guys, eating a cooked breakfast (at their desks from the frying pan) and watching Southampton Vs Man City on the TV. It turns out that as Colonel K is classed as a Heavy Vehicle, we have to buy coupons to drive on the main highway, and after a long discussion with a map of Zimbabwe in front of all 5 of us, it was decided that we would be driving from Plumtree, to Bulawayo, then up to Hwange National Park, and then exiting the country at Victoria Falls. This would cost us 50US dollars, and would be valid for 14 days, but if we wanted to stay longer we could only renew it at Vic Falls, and we would again have to state the route we wanted to take. They also told us that as we have paid this fee we wouldn’t have to pay the road tolls that are all over Zimbabwe (if we had paid the Road Access Fee we would have still have had to pay the tolls), so not so bad. We had a good laugh with these guys, and of course discussed how the hell Leicester City have run away with the English Premier League. And that was it, all in all a very pleasant border experience.
If you believe everything that is written about Zimbabwe (especially in the UK Press), you’d think that the infrastructure was a mess, well maybe things have gone drastically down hill over recent years, but first impressions of the roads was good, in fact way better than nearby Namibia and Botswana. Don’t get me wrong there are sections that are horrendous by European standards, but still better than much of what we have travelled on, it didn’t feel like we were about to break a leaf string every five minutes.
About 120km from the border (and after several Police road blocks) we got to the small village of Figtree. Here was the turning for a track off the tarmac, that was a short cut to Motobo Hills (an area we wanted to visit), also at this turning was a sign to Phomolo Lodge, there was no mention of camping here, and we tried the phone number but couldn’t get through, so as it was “on the way” we thought we would give it a go for camping. Several villages and a couple of gates (and a long sandy track) later we arrived at the gate to the farm. It truly looked closed down, but in the distance we could see a guy walking towards us to open up the last locked gate. ‘Wilfred’ greeted us warmly, and told us that ‘Mr Vince’ will be along shortly to take us to the campsite. ‘Mr Vince’ couldn’t believe that I was also a ‘Vince’. Next thing we knew, we were getting a guided tour of their two lodge rooms, (which were very new and very nicely done), it turns out its a national pastime to experience the lodges that you aren’t going to stay in!
It turns out that we were the first “overseas” guests to stay at the campsite (I think we might have been the first guests full stop), and we were made to feel very welcome, we had Mr Wilfred, Mr Vince, and the farm manager Mr Lee, all running around getting things perfect for us. The cost of camping was $5 per person, including firewood, amazing value. It’s a lovely quiet place, overlooking a “dam”, and surrounded by some fantastic rocky outcrops (that this area is famous for). There was a family from one of the villages down at the dam, and the kids seemed to be playing at fishing, it was a lovely scene, and they were quite unaware that I was there.
Then the owner of the farm and lodge turned up, his title, Mr High Chief Justice Cheda, (like our Cheddar Cheese, he said), what a lovely guy. He couldn’t do enough for us, and suggested that we should be his personal guests into the National Park at Matobo Hills, and take us to the various sites there, including the grave of Sir Cecil Rhodes. Obviously it would be rude to turn down this offer, so agreed we would stay here another night. As it turned out Judge Cheda couldn’t make it the next morning so he got the farm manager Mr Lee to take us out for the day in his double cab Toyota Hilux.
Motabo Hills is a stunning place, and my photo’s can’t begin to do the rock formations justice, the balancing granite boulders mixed with the lush green vegetation form a beautiful backdrop to various “tourist” sites within the park.
Within this area there are an abundance of ancient rock painting’s, and whilst we experienced some of these in Namibia, the ones here in Zimbabwe are in such good condition, and of course in great locations, that makes them very special to see. The ones below are in “White Rhino Cave”, which was a fair hike up into the hills (bear in mind that this place is over 4,500 feet above sea level).
And just as you start to descend back to the car, you are faced with views like this……
After hearing that we were going to see the grave of Sir Cecil Rhodes, we thought we had better find out who this guy was….. Well it turns out (according to our Western Guide book) that he was not a very nice guy, that he tricked the local Chiefs out of their lands, had his own personal army, and made a fortune out of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi). But in true Rhodes style he chose a sacred tribal area of land as his final resting place in the event of his death. He named it “World’s View”, and from the top of the Granite hill you can see for miles.
The grave is a simple, but huge bronze plaque, nearby (but obviously slightly lower than Rhodes grave) are two similar graves, one of these was his close “friend”, and the other is the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (from this time). But under the instruction of Rhodes, a huge monument was built containing the bodies of 34 of his soldiers that were killed as they tried to capture the local King. This is so out of place on this hill top, it looks like it should be in a city centre.
But the thing that made me laugh, was that it seems Zimbabwe has had the last laugh on Sir Cecil….. His grave was absolutely covered in lizards, maybe they are taunting his soul ha!
“Mr Lee” then drove us to ‘Pomongwe cave’, which is the home to yet more ancient cave paintings, again the condition of these really is amazing bearing in mind that theses date from between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago.
In ‘Pomongwe cave’ an experiment was carried out to try to preserve these painting during the 1960’s, they painted over a large section of this priceless art with linseed oil, the result is plain to see in the cave, the rock paintings behind the linseed oil had completely disappeared! I’m no expert but I’m not sure they actually needs preserving, the rest of it is so clear. The cave lives up to its name (Big Cave) and is huge, and must have made a fantastic dwelling for a family or community.
Just as we thought we were due to leave the National Park Mr Lee had other idea’s, he needed to do some ‘market research’, or check out the “opposition”. He drove us to a lodge that is set inside the park, but is only about 30km from their farm’s lodge.
Ingwe (Leopard) Lodge, is hidden away down a very bad mud/sand track, and we arrived to what seemed like a deserted place, there was no sign of any staff or guests, eventually Mr Lee found a young guy who said he was the manager. I think Mr Lee told him that we were potential guests and wanted to see the rooms and have a full price list, so once again we were shown rooms that we were never going to stay in! This place was a serious step back in time, the decor and furnishings were like a 1950’s english house.
The rooms are a massively priced $120 per night, not including meals, and we were shown round the WHOLE place. The manager (who is also the chef, and receptionist) was so polite and helpful, that we decided we should at least buy a couple of drinks at the bar. I got chatting to him a bit more and it turns out that it only opened in January this year after being closed down for 16 years, they have reused all the original beds and furniture……. mmmmmm.
On the way back, Mr Lee was proudly telling us about his Toyota Hilux, it had done nearly half million kilometres, all with nothing replaced apart from service items, this is incredible and of course the kiss of death! Ten minutes later we pulled over as the temperature gauge was rising rapidly. Under the bonnet it was obvious what the cause was, the top breather hose off of the radiator had snapped clean off, not the hose, but the entire outlet. In Europe this would have meant a tow-in and a new radiator, but this is Africa! Mr Lee used superglue, and a reinforcing powder to stick the broken outlet back on! Leave it for 10 minutes to harden, scrounge some dirty water from a local village, top it back up and we were away! Unbelievable! I must get some of this glue and powder……..
Again that night we had Mr Wilfred “protecting us” on the campsite with his short barrelled pump action shotgun (slung over his shoulder with some nice blue string), we were not sure what he was there for, but they were convinced that we were petrified of the wildlife! We assured them that we were fine but still Mr Wilfred was there in the background. Next morning Mr High Chief Justice Cheda turned up to see us off and take photos of us and Colonel K, he also gave us his business card (High Court Judge, not farmer), with his personal mobile phone number written on the back. He told us not to accept any nonsense from the many Police blocks that we were to encounter on route, and we were to ring him if we have any trouble. He had effectively given us “a get out of jail free card”.
When we crossed the border into Zimbabwe, we purchased a local sim card and some airtime scratch cards, and whilst the phone was working ok for calls and text messages (local only), we couldn’t get any internet connection, despite buying separate Facebook and WhatsApp packages (only $2 for a week), so we headed for the large town of Bulawayo. After trying 3 or 4 different “shops” (and having a right laugh with a few of the locals), it was obvious that we had to visit an actual Econet shop and get the sim ‘internet enabled’. This would mean driving right into the city centre and parking Colonel K, so we decided to leave it and head straight to Hwange National Park. This days driving meant us passing about a dozen Police Checkpoint’s, a few we were waved through, but most we were stopped, and the truck and our paperwork was checked, but all without exception was carried out with a smile and a bit of a laugh and joke. All was in order each time.
We stopped that night at “Tuskers Campsite” that is part of “Ivory Lodge”, just outside the National Park, this is a lovely place (and unlike most places in Zimbabwe has seen continued investment and upkeep), and there’s HOT WATER! There is a large waterhole in front of the Lodge and Campsite, and this is frequently visited by Elephants, Kudu, Impala, Warthogs, Hyena, and there was a fantastic platform right next to where we parked to give you a better view of the waterhole and surrounding bush veld.
The perfect place for a cold beer or a gin and tonic.
That night as usual we cooked our dinner over the open fire, that we had made in a oil drum that was provided for this purpose, we didn’t want to make a mess with the ashes. Then at about 8.30 “Papa” appeared and dragged a few very large lumps of wood over to us and used our cooking fire to light them, that night we had the mother of all fires!
We loved it here, and spent three nights, the staff were amazing, and we got internet on the wifi….
And of course there was the sunrises, and the wild life.
One afternoon, we were enjoying a drink from the bar (it would have been rude not too), and using the wifi, when there was scream from ‘Jamie’ the manageress, then the shout “SNAKE”, I ran round with my camera (it was only a couple of settee’s away, and I do love a photo), she had been walking through the side opening (there are no doors to the bar/reception/restuarant), when a snake lunged at her, fangs bared at face height! Apparently it was highly venomous, bright green with spots, and it was definitely NOT HAPPY.
No one was going near it, but wasn’t coming out of its own accord, so they sent for Peter the guide, he confirmed it was venomous, and agreed that it must be removed…… He did no more than pick up a tin of “mossy spray” and spray it in the general area of the by now very pissed off snake. It dropped like a stone offf the roof timbers and the slim 4 foot reptile shot out (luckily away from us), onto the garden and straight under the raised deck that we had been sitting on, as far as they were concerned the snake had been dealt with! We went back to the raised deck to finish our drinks, knowing there was a highly venomous (and quite angry) snake just under our feet (but the gap between the boards were nice and close). Whilst talking about snakes, we have seen lots more snakes in Zimbabwe than in any other parts of Africa (mostly on the roads). Eventually Jamie’s heart rate returned to normal, she was a very lucky girl.
The plan was to spend the next couple of days driving through the huge National Park, but the officials at the entrance office had other ideas, and decided that Colonel K was too big for the roads in the park, and that other vehicles would struggle to pass us! This was crazy, as we had already been told that the vast majority of roads in the park were tarmac and quite wide, and secondly there are virtually no tourists self driving in Zimbabwe anyway. I think we got the wrong person on the wrong day, but her mind was set. When asked what the weight limit is for the park, no one knew anyway. She did say that we could stay on the campsite that night, but we would have to pay park fees to stop there, even though we weren’t allowed into the bloody park! Bye……
We decided to take a chance and drive up to Lake Kariba on the Northern border with Zambia, and find a camp up there, it was a little risky as our road coupons didn’t cover us for this 350km detour from our stated route, but we thought it unlikely that there would be Police road blocks on this tiny road, plus I was still convinced that we had no insurance. How wrong we were, this is Zimbabwe and there are Police everywhere stopping traffic, always a minimum of 3 officers, and no Police vehicles, no cars, no bikes, not even a cycle. Despite being stopped at each one, luckily none of them asked to see our coupons or insurance, and not one of them had ever seen a Carnet de Passage before. We had been warned by the staff at Tuskers that the road was very hilly and dangerously steep in places, and told “when the sign says use low gear, you must select low gear!”. Wow they weren’t kidding, steep downs mean steep up’s, we ended up doing about 50km in low range, it was seriously steep in places.
We found a campsite near the village of Binga, right on the Lake in a small secluded bay (its not actually a lake really, its more a very wide section of the Zambezi River), it was down possibly the smallest and toughest track we had driven with some huge boulders to negotiate (even “Tracks 4 Africa” had given up on us). But eventually we arrived at a rough looking boat yard with a sign to Chilila Lodge. The place was once obviously very nice, with beautiful gardens, but now it was very run down, clumps of thatch was missing from the roofs of the chalets, and reception area, the camping area, obviously hadn’t seen many visitors recently, and the ablutions were full of leaves and debris. But we were as usual met by the most friendly guy, that could not do enough for us, he swept out the toilets and showers, brought us a wheel barrow of firewood, and generally made us most welcome. Zimbabwe desperately needs the tourists to return to these places. It was a beautiful setting, with a few house boats moored nearby.
One of the fanciest houseboats was called “The Lady Jacqueline”, which Jac assures me was named after her, apparently its a “boat of note”……
These are the ablutions, a little grim, but there was sort of hot water in one of the showers, these guys are trying their best under increasingly bad economic conditions.
Next it was the long drive to Victoria Falls, oh the Police road blocks, this day were becoming very tedious, always polite and again always jovial, but very tedious. We had about 15 to 20 this particular day, and almost every one (even if they are only 20km apart), checked headlights, tail lights, indicators, brake lights, reversing lights, driving licence, TIP (our carnet), and of course the fire extinguisher! But it did give me a chance to catch up on the English Premier League scores, and discuss the return to fitness of Wayne Rooney, several times……. but again no fines, no bribes and definitely no heavy handedness. At Vic Falls later, we were chatting to a guy from the campsite that was amazed that we had no complaints against the Police, and didn’t have to pay any bribes, he was telling us he had seen self drive tourists in tears about how they had been treated by the Zimbabwean Police. Personally I think its more about how you treat them, its so important to arrive to them with a confident, but polite smile and try to immediately engage with them, but also to show them some respect.
Victoria Falls was a shock, after over a week in rural Zimbabwe, at Vic Falls we were suddenly plunged into a huge tourism hub. We found Vic Falls Rest Camp which is right in the centre of town, and as we got out of Colonel K and switched off the engine, the roar of the falls hit us. It is more than two kilometres away, but the noise from the water is always (during high water times anyway) in the background, then theres the helicopters constantly buzzing over the falls , and there’s tourists here! There seemed to be very few self drive tourists in Vic Falls, but there were lots of “overland tour trucks”. It seemed like lots of German tourists that were on air-conditioned coaches and staying at the posh hotels down near the falls (we are still not far from the Caprivi Strip in Namibia after all). The camp site was huge, but very few people were camping here, there was a bar next door that had thumping music until late into the evening, it was a real shock for us.
Next day we walked the two kilometres to the falls, after paying our $30US per person entry fee, and telling lots of locals that we didn’t want to “rent a poncho”, we walked the short distance to the actual Falls. At this point we noticed that 99% of the tourists had indeed “rented a poncho” and WE were the remaining 1%! Within 5 minutes we were absolutely soaked to the skin, tops, shorts, pants, socks, rucksack, and even my trusty Panasonic camera, all soaked…… Check out the guy behind Jac in the photo below, he’s got a poncho and an umbrella!
About six years ago we visited Victoria Falls from the Zambia side, and it was impressive then, but this was on another level, and will definitely be one of the high lights of this trip. Here you can walk for quite a few kilometres, and all the time the water is coming UP at you, falling Down on you, and blowing horizontally in the wind straight into your face! Its very invigorating, and we got some very strange looks from the many groups of Germans, with their tour guides all neatly wrapped up in their “rent a poncho’s”. How we laughed……. Not sure what David Livingstone would have made of it!
Next it was a coffee stop back at the entrance gate, this was a cappuccino Zimbabwe style. We just ordered a couple simple cappuccino’s, and with each came a shot of Amarula, and a glass of iced water, very welcome, but perhaps not very “pc” at 11.00am.
We then walked to The Lookout Cafe, this was only about 1km away, but overlooks the canyon a fair way after the falls, and the Zambezi is now just a churning, boiling mass of water. On the walk to the Cafe we had to walk past a herd of elephants…… they really are close to the town centre here. We had a lovely lunch sitting on the terrace overlooking the Zambezi, with the old British built Iron Bridge in the distance ( we are going to have to cross it in a couple of days time to get to Zambia).
The last day at Vic Falls, was a day for chores in the morning, lunch out, and then Jac decided we should go to the poshest, most expensive hotel in town for afternoon cocktails, and wow was it posh! The Victoria Falls Hotel is sheer decadence, and clearly harking back to the days of the British Colonial Rule.It even had King George V, the Queen, and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret stay in 1947. It really is lovely and more like a working museum, but it is immaculate with beautiful gardens, and the view up to the Iron Bridge is the best we had seen, oh and the cocktails were pretty damn good too!
It really is a fantastic place, but on another planet as far as the rest of Zimbabwe is concerned. The vast majority of guests here I suspect, arrive by coach from either Namibia or Zambia, visit the Falls, and then exit the country again. There’s nothing wrong in that, but I wonder what their thoughts on Zimbabwe are? Perhaps they think all lodges and hotels here are like this.
The people of Zimbabwe are without a doubt the nicest people that we have met on this trip (and the bar had already been set very high by Ghana), it is a country that has gone backwards economically, and the vast majority of its population are struggling big time. We were told by a few people that they have partially stopped trading in money (as they can’t trust the value of it), and have gone back to the old days of bartering goods for other goods and services (a bag of maize for some thatch maybe). The country is now officially using the US dollar as currency, which has stopped the unbelievable inflation that was hitting the average person in 2009. One guy was telling us that shop keepers were increasing their prices on an hourly basis, every day. Another told us how by the time he got paid at the end of the month, he didn’t have enough money from his salary to buy a can of Coke.
To show how bad things had got, I bought a banknote from a street vendor in Vic Falls, the face value of this note was 50 Billion Dollars! Thats, 50,000,000,000.00, and that wasn’t the highest they got to (I paid $3US for it as a momento). The prices here are all out of kilter, with a loaf of bread being a dollar, and most food stuffs being very expensive for the average Zimbabwean, (we were told that the unemployment rate was 90%), there are virtually no cars on the roads outside of the main cities (fuel is the most expensive we have seen in Africa so far). But still we are greeted warmly where ever we go. Lovely people……
Sorry its a bit long, we would have done it in two parts, but we were warned not to blog from inside Zimbabwe, as we could be accused of working for the BBC as journalists !……
Thanks for reading
On our last post I mentioned that we had wrecked a tyre, so the plan was that we were going to find a local tyre repair place in the small town of Kasane and get them to swap that wheel over for the spare (it is seriously hard work changing a wheel on Colonel K, with each wheel and tyre weighing in at 135kg), before heading south to Francistown where we would find a larger tyre dealer and order in a couple of new tyres. While waiting for the tyres to be delivered (we were expecting a 2-4 week wait for these to get to Botswana), we would go off exploring for a bit, and hope we didn’t get our first puncture of the trip.
At the filling station in Kasane we were told there were no tyre repairers in town but there was a small one in the next “town” along called “TyreMax”, and you can’t miss it because the whole place is tiny. So once in Kazungula, we found TyreMax and asked the guy if someone could swap the wheels over, whilst waiting (its a busy little place), I went into “reception” and enquired about getting a couple of new tyres delivered, after a few sharp intakes of breath from the woman behind the desk, she told me she had that size in stock! No way I thought, this size is impossible to source (even the two new ones we had fitted in the UK took about 3 weeks to get to the dealer, they are old Imperial sizes after all). I was taken through the back to the mad house that was their store room, there was no light, with tyres piled everywhere, but eventually I was taken to a pair of “Apollo” tyres, my heart sunk! These were the correct size, but were a pure road tyre, and weren’t even the correct load rating (very important on a single axle truck weighing nearly 10 tonnes). Back to square one then…………. More out of polite conversation than anything else, I asked if these were the only ones of this size that they had in stock, “oh no” came the reply, “we also have Bridgestone’s but they are very expensive”. When I saw this brand new pair of Bridgestone tyres my eyes nearly popped out of my head! These were my first choice of tyres before we were to leave the UK, but I was told by every dealer that they were not obtainable in my size. I checked the sizes, the load rating, even the date of manufacture, all was perfect, this was unbelievable…….. Now to do a deal. Before we left the UK we paid £800.00 for each Michelin, plus inner tubes and plus flaps (but including fitting), we ended up agreeing to a price here in Botswana of £400.00 each including genuine Bridgestone tubes and flaps, and fitting. Two hours later we were on our way!!!! We were incredibly lucky to find these tyres, and we just hope that these tyres now last the rest of our trip, as I’m sure that type of luck can’t repeat itself too often.
You could tell these guys are used to dealing with split rim wheels like ours, and as they were busy inflating the tyres without a cage over the wheel (this is a seriously dangerous business), there were people walking over the wheel and tyre, people standing around eating, whereas me and Jac were hiding behind the truck! They were a great bunch of guys, (there was about 4 of them working on the truck) and despite the fact that their English wasn’t great we did have a laugh with them.
Kazungula is a small border town where you can get across to both Zimbabwe, and Zambia, and there was a queue of trucks to rival any West African border crossing, it went back for miles, the majority waiting to cross to Zambia. Apparently there is a pontoon crossing here, and one of them was broken, these truck drivers must have the patience of a saint. Luckily we weren’t planning on crossing here.
After getting sorted we set off down the A33 tarmac road towards Nata, this is a strange road with only one town or village along the route (the fantastically named Pandamatenga), there are no other settlements for 300km, but at Panda the landscape changed from deep lush bush and grasslands to a huge sea of various crops, we saw, peas, maize, and sunflower, all stretching deep over the horizon.
Then as suddenly as it appeared, it returned to bush again. Now I must point out that all along this road (apart from where the crops are) there is lots of wildlife including elephants, it must cost a fortune keeping these animals out of this huge area of lush food (elephants in particular have no respect for boundaries or fences).
The other surprise with this road was the odd military presence in heavily camouflaged tents (but not camouflaged enough obviously), just set back from the road side, then we realised that the road (in three different places) would be blocked when deemed necessary and turned into an airstrip. This road does run parallel and quite close to the border with Zimbabwe, so I don’t know if thats why its so multi purpose, but i’d hope that they cleared the area of elephants and giraffe before they were cleared for landing.
That night we stopped at Elephant Sands, a lodge and campsite about 50km north of Nata. We had met a few people on this trip that had recommended this place. It has recently (in the last year) been taken over my the previous owners daughter and husband, and they are investing quite heavily on improving the place, including new tented chalets, and extending the restaurant/bar area.
The campsite (right next to the waterhole and bar), also has some updated ablutions, and is unusual in this part of the world in that there are no set camp areas, it is a bit of a free for all, but is no worse for that. The big attraction of Elephant Sands (apart from the really friendly family that are running it), are of course the elephants themselves, all the accommodation is arranged in a horseshoe shape around the waterhole, and this allows the elephants to wander in and out, but be observed from the safety of the bar or your own stilted tent.
Mike the owner explained when we arrived, that due to the very late and heavy rain’s this year, there weren’t as many elephants at this time, as they have a huge choice of waterholes scattered around the area at the moment, never the less we did see a few elephants over the first two days that we stayed (mostly because we were still in the bar area once everyone else had gone to bed). Mike also explained that during the dry season the waterhole here is the only source of guaranteed water for hundreds of kilometres, (its trucked in tankers and pumped in to top up the water at Elephant Sands), consequently they can be over run with elephants, last year they had over 500 elephants at the small waterhole in one 24 hour spell, this meant that they had to close the campsite for a time and that they had to drain the small swimming pool, as the elephants managed to scale to patio area in a desperate attempt to get to some water! A victim of your own success? Maybe. Elephants have been recorded coming from as far as Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, just to get to a reliable source of water.
After asking the owners about the possibility of self driving the Nxai National Park, or the Makgadikgadi National Park without having to pay the 1,500BWP (£100.00) per day in vehicle park fees, we realised that this wasn’t really an option for us (especially after blowing our budget on 2 new tyres). But an hour or so later they came back and found us , and asked that if we wanted to, we could spend a night camping on their “farm”. We really didn’t understand what they were offering us, and so asked politely “why would we want to do this?”. It turns out that their “farm” isn’t really a farm as we know it but a huge 16,000 ha area of wild unspoilt bush and grassland that is at the moment dotted with pans that are full of water. Wow, this really was an amazing opportunity and obviously we thanked them and jumped at the chance. So the next morning, armed with nothing more than a sketched map, we set out into the bush, Mike had marked were a couple of pans were that were accessible with a vehicle, so we headed for these.
The first one we past was quite small with very little water in it at present, then we came across another much larger body of water so we found a suitable place to park up (not blocking the obvious elephant thoroughfares), and after a few moves we parked up about 8 metres from the waters edge, on a slightly elevated flat area.
There were fresh elephant prints and dung everywhere! But when we first got there (about 10.00am) there was no sign of elephants…….surely they will come though eh? We used the opportunity to collect fallen firewood, as there was lots of it due to the damage caused by the elephants, of course using our “ironman” welding gloves (that we use for cooking on the open fire) to protect us from scorpions lurking under the fallen wood.
Gradually at around noon we started to hear the distant sound of elephants, sometimes eating, sometimes destroying the odd tree, we could even hear them splashing in another waterhole further into the bush, then our first young bull elephant appeared……….. Then for the next 5 or 6 hours it was crazy, there were elephants everywhere!
We were hoping to see a few at close range at this water hole, we ended up counting to approx 60 elephants during daylight, but they just kept coming in during the evening. Many of these huge creatures were quite agitated by us being there, and were especially unhappy about the truck.
That night we had the mother of all camp fires, cooked our fish and vegetables, drank our wine and settled back to listen the drama of the African Bush at Night, and wow what a night. We had elephants moving very close by in the pitch black of the night, it was a perfect clear, but black night with no moon up until much later. I slept like a log….. I’m not sure Jac did.
The birds at the waterhole were quite breathtaking, including, Hornbills, Crimson Breasted Shrikes, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Weaver Birds, and the stunning Shaft-Tailed Whydah.
But that 24 hours was definitely all about the elephants.
After a leisurely breakfast we headed back to Elephant Sands (which was preparing to host a wedding the next day, what a place for a wedding).
Unbelievably we also met the parents of the two English couples that we met a few weeks ago in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, who had come out to visit them. Later in the day (about 5pm), Jac decided to go off to the ablution block for a shower (I was left typing this blog), when she hadn’t returned after about 15 minutes, I thought I’d better take a look to see what was keeping her………….
Poor old Jac, she was in the shower, covered in soap, when a huge bull elephant decided that he liked the smell of her shower water, as she turned round there he was, face against the 2 foot gap above the wall, ready to do as much damage with his truck as he deemed fit! She ended up wrapped in her towel in full view of the bar (much to the amusement of the guests and staff), at the entrance to the ablutions waiting for the elephant to lose interest. Eventually he wandered off to the water hole, much to the relief of Jac’s who finished her shower very nervously.
If you think I’m exaggerating about an elephant damaging property to get at the water, last year Elephant Sands had 14 WC’s ripped out by elephants as they were trying to get to water, all smashed to pieces.
Bugs…………Living in Colonel K is a constant battle with bugs. Mosquitos are much more prevalent here in Eastern and Northern Botswana, but we are getting more used to them, as we are constantly above 3,000 feet, its a bit cooler as it gets dark, and this allows us to wear long trousers and sleeves if the mossies are bad, with just a bit of repellant on your exposed skin. This seems to work most of the time, and obviously we sleep under a net and take anti-malarial tablets each day. Ants are a different kettle of fish! It is a constant battle to keep on top of them inside the truck, there is always a nest somewhere that needs eradicating, above the bed, above the kitchen wall cupboards, in the air-con unit………. the list is endless. We have found that “Doom Super Strength Multi Insect” seems to sort them out without killing us, but you really don’t want to be in there once we’ve sprayed the place, its nasty! Its not unusual to use almost a whole tin of Doom when we have a bad infestation, but I guess we just have to accept that it is part of life in Africa when moving about, parking under trees for shade, and walking in and out of the living area (Im convinced that we are taking them in on our shoes and clothes).
One day (the night we bush camped at Elephant Sands), we were constantly visited by some African Bees (thats what we call them, not sure of the correct name), these are huge flying black bees, about 30-40mm long, and for some reason they wanted to fly in and out of the truck, when we went to bed that night this was what we found on one of our pictures that we have on our walls……
The buggers had been bringing mud in to build this nest!
Then there’s the more cute bugs like this strange creature that looks like a piece of grass.
We are now in Francistown (Botswana’s 2nd biggest city), catching up on washing clothes etc, and will head over to the border with Zimbabwe and cross over at the Plumtree border crossing (we are not expecting this crossing to be as smooth as the last few that we’ve had). There are a few National parks that we want to visit while in Zimbabwe, so we will see how we get on.
Thanks for reading
From Drotsky’s Camp in Western Botswana, the only choice was the tarmac road to Maun, there is no other way across the Okavango Delta if you have four wheels. This gave us time to think about how things can change just by crossing a land border. The most immediate striking difference when crossing from Namibia to Botswana was the amount of unattended livestock on the roads. There are cattle, goats and donkeys everywhere, and it seems that in Botswana the “owners” don’t need to keep them from the traffic. Oh, and the Butterfly’s, they are everywhere at the moment, clouds of them rising from the long dried grass, all different colours, all trying desperately to clog up Colonel K’s radiator and overheat the engine. Then there’s the road surface, at some point the government of Botswana must have taken a decision to tarmac even some of their more minor routes rather than using gravel tracks as in Namibia and to some extent South Africa. That is fine but its much cheaper and easier to maintain a gravel road with a ‘grading machine’ than it is to continuously fill pot holes and mend broken tarmac edges, consequently there are a lot of very big and nasty pot holes on the Shakwe to Maun road.
Anyway after a long drive we arrived in Maun, and after a quick bit of food shopping, and getting a local sim card for our phone, we found a nice campsite that was part of Sedia Riverside Hotel, which was about 6km out of town. We ended up staying here for a few days, using the swimming pool and lodge facilities, and trying to find out if it was possible for us to drive the direct route through Chobe National Park, via Savuti. This was something that we really wanted to do in Botswana, having done this route about 7 years previously in a Landrover Defender. This was going to be very different, driving in deep sand in a 10 tonne truck is not the same as a 2.5 tonne Landrover! First of all we needed to find out if anyone else currently in Maun had done this in a large truck, or indeed if it was allowed by the Park Authorities. So after a chat to a few people in travel/excursions shops and a quick trip to a very nice coffee shop where we met an English guy and his Belgium girlfriend we decided it probably could be done as long as we avoided the small bridges (some wooden) of Moremi Game Reserve. The English guy was especially helpful, telling us about some of the tracks to avoid due to the mud around the Savuti Marsh. They are trying to set up a conservation project in Moremi, and are hoping to get a permit to stay in Botswana, so good luck with that guys.
Another difference in Botswana is the tourists, in Namibia I guess about 80-90% of tourists are German, here in Botswana, there is a much greater mix of nationalities visiting the country, and they seem much more willing to speak to you, and many seem much more travelled here than in Namibia. I get the impression that many Germans visit Namibia many times year after year (a bit like the Brits going to Spain?).
One pain in the butt when self driving in Botswana is that you will be denied entry to a National Park (if you plan to overnight there) without a confirmed booking in an official campsite, so despite still not meeting anyone who had driven a large truck through Chobe, we headed off to a booking office to pre-book and pay for a couple of nights camping at Savuti Campsite. The next big difference of Botswana over Namibia reared its ugly head…………its so bloody expensive! One nights camping at Savuti was 1,150BWP, or £76.00, thats crazy, stupid, mental! We are used to paying between £5.00 and £12.00 per night on this trip, so staying at Savuti for two nights was out of the question. Eventually we found another site located just outside the Gate into the National Park, so we booked that at another agency for one night at a much more reasonable 400BWP, or £27.00 per night. This second agency was very helpful, and managed to find out how much we would have to pay in park entrance fees, we already knew that it was 120BWP per person per day, and that if you have a vehicle under 3.5 tonnes then thats an extra 50BWP, so it was with shock and dismay that we were told that if a vehicle is over 7 tonnes its 1,500BWP per day! Thats a 3,000% increase over a Landrover. This trip needed planning carefully otherwise our budget would be blown big time! If we spent 7 nights at Savuti with the truck it would cost us over £1,200, just to camp, with no electricity, and no drinkable water! Yet they are busy here, very busy, with Savuti being fully booked most nights. Botswana really is all about low volume, high prices, especially in the National parks, and it seems to work for them. The lodges are busy, and yet the National Parks are very quiet and totally unspoilt.
So having booked a couple of nights camping ahead of us it was time to return to Sedia, on the banks of the Thamalakane River, and watch the Fish Eagles here for one last night.
There was a huge storm off to the south, with a lightening show in the darkening evening skies, this is not unusual during late afternoon at this time of year, but once again we only saw the rain in the distance and it never actually reached us, but it made for a stunning last evening here.
Our first prebooked campsite was a fairly new place called Dijara Campsite, and on the way up here from Maun, the wildlife was coming thick and fast, especially elephants.
Including this rare six legged elephant.
As we got closer to Chobe and Moremi we started to see water, lots of water, and some tracks were closed off and we had to ‘back track’ to find ways around the flooded areas (no vehicle tracks were entering these waters, all had turned around), we were hoping that Chobe wasn’t too wet as it can get very muddy (9 tonne trucks don’t like mud).
Early afternoon we reached Dijara, and the very friendly owner got us to follow him in his Landrover Defender to our camp spot, wow what a place! It was right on the banks of the Khwai River, with long distances in-between each camp spot (there are about ten camp areas here), and each camp has its own ‘flushing toilet’ and bucket shower. And then there’s the elephants, they were constantly coming out of the river and through the campsite, sometimes eating, sometimes deciding to stop and have a snooze.
What ever they were doing, there was never an elephant too far away, never threatening us but you really must respect these animals! This was proved late in the day when the guys came up the track quite quickly in the Landrover, and surprised the young bull elephant in the photo above as he was dozing against the tree, he completely freaked out, but fortunately he charged off in the opposite direction to us and Colonel K.
It really is a special place, and just goes to prove that you don’t have to be in the National Park here in Botswana to experience wild animals, after all there are no fences here and these animals do not know the park boundaries.
And again the bird life was great, with Fish Eagles, Tawny Eagles, and Open-Billed Stork.
Soon it was time to fill the bucket shower and allow the sun to heat the water in the said bucket, so we lowered the bucket using the cord and pulley system and started to fill the bucket using the “river” water from the tank and tap nearby (check out the lovely “clean” water we are about to wash in).
Then just as we started to hoist the bucket up, the cord snapped and the bucket came crashing down. A quick re-tying of the cord (shortening it somewhat) and another refilling of the shower bucket, saw us slowly hoisting it up into position above our heads, gently, gently, crash!!!! Ok this is crazy and dangerous under this bucket with rotten cord, so we resorted to using our outside shower instead (this was only the second time we’ve used it on this trip, as we do need a decent amount of privacy to get your kit off and shower outside). But despite the shower issue, this is one of the nicest places we’ve camped at on this trip. That evening we cooked dinner on the fire to the sounds of elephants, hippos, and hyena, then it was off to bed for an early rise to tackle the sands of Chobe.
We didn’t get away quite as early as we had hoped in the morning, leaving Dijara campsite at 7.30am. We only had about 80km to do that day to get to Savuti Campsite, but we really didn’t know what to expect as far as driving in the sand was concerned, its also better to drive the sand earlier in the day when there is a small amount of moisture in it and so it holds the sand together slightly better.
Then just after leaving the campsite, we had a first for us, a real treat…….. we came across a small pack of African Wild Dog, these are quite rare and can be difficult to spot, but they seemed to have a ‘kill’ on the edge of the track, and were reluctant to leave it.
It was just after seeing these beautiful animals that we arrived at Mababe Gate, officially the entrance to Chobe NP, and expressed our shock and horror that they were going to charge us 1,000BWP for our 6.8 tonne truck to enter for the day!
Job done, we set off and almost immediately we were in deep sand, very deep sand…… oh bugger this is going to be a long couple of days! We were already in low range and selecting first gear, the Daf just dug in and slowly (4 kmph) it pulled us through . No using the sand ladders yet so job done! But despite letting the tyre pressures down, I felt that reducing them further would help us even more after we had seen the extent of these deep sections (and we knew worst was to come). So we decided to wait until we got to a clearing and then get out and reduce them further. Soon we came across a vehicle that had stopped ahead of us with a trailer, so slowly we pulled up some distance behind him thinking that they had seen some animals and were stopped and were watching them. After about 5 minutes I decided that they weren’t moving and got out to look at the tyres (it was nice firm ground). to my amazement I realised there was no car in-front of the “off-road” camper trailer, and looking closely I realised it had been abandoned after the chassis had snapped! Not a good advert for Conquerer Trailers, Africa is tough on vehicles.
Anyway we quickly whipped the valves out and reduced the tyres down as far as we dare, trying not to drop the valve into the sand (Jac having the spare valves close at hand), and drove around the trailer through the long grass and back on our way.
There were indeed lots of sections of deep sand, some longer than others, but as long we reduced our speed to walking pace in first gear, the truck managed to pull through each one. Other than the weight of the truck (over 9 tonnes), our other big disadvantage in the sand is the much wider track of the wheels. A Landrover or Land Cruiser 70 series track neatly fits within the inside of our wheel tracks, that means that the Daf has to cut its own track in the outside of the ‘normal’ vehicle route, so being in soft sand all the time.
But slowly we were getting there, and the animals along the route made up for the demands of this driving, there were huge herds of Zebra, Giraffe, and literally hundreds of elephants.
But after six hours of driving, we eventually got to Savuti, this is about midway through Chobe, we had averaged 12kmph (7.5mph), we had met only 4 vehicles (all coming in the opposite direction, nothing caught us up). We quickly set up in our camp spot for the night (a very expensive one), had a quick look around and brewed a well earned coffee. That evening we were entertained by a family of small Mongoose’s, the young ones being very bold and approaching us perhaps a little too closely.
The next morning we left Savuti campsite at 7.00am, knowing that if we got to the exit gate later than 11.00am we would have to pay another day of vehicle and personal fee’s, and we had been told that there was again lots of deep sand in front of us. Also there was the stopping for the animals, including these Impala in the early morning light.
And of course the elephants, hundreds of elephants, sometimes having to wait for them to move before we could carry on.
But we made it to the gate before the extra charges kicked in, and were told that the track leaving the NP was closed due to deep sand and that we needed to follow a “new” route, this was a much longer route but hopefully not so much deep sand. The original route must have been bad as this detour was indeed very sandy, but we did the 85 km by about noon. On reaching the tarmac, we stopped under the shade of a tree in the village to re-inflate the tyres (front from 40psi back up to 90psi, and the rears from 65psi back up to 125psi), we timed this and it took almost 90 minutes to carry out this task (that also included spraying and releasing the coupling on the air tanks so we could attach the airline, as it was packed full of sand and crap). This is a big disadvantage of a big truck, as the air tanks only inflate to about 100psi, so we have to use a heavy duty portable compressor to slowly get the rear tyres up to 125psi. We then have to wait for the compressor to cool down before we can store it away (it gets seriously hot).
Overall we were gobsmacked at how well the Daf performed in the Chobe sands, we never got stuck once in the 180km’s of sand that we drove, not needing the sand ladders that we invested in at all. The cooling system coped well with the massive heat of the day, and the very low speeds at times (so little air was passing through the radiator). The biggest issue was the rear wheels occasionally got “crossed up”, with say the right rear deciding that it wanted to be in the left hand rut! This could only be cured by almost stopping, correcting the steering and then moving forward again. You really had to concentrate to make sure the wheels were pointing in the right direction, but this happens with all vehicles in this deep sand environment.
On the way out of the National Park, just before we got to the town of Kasane, we suddenly got a ping on the phone (we hadn’t had a signal for three days), and Jac was just reading an email from my sister Brenda (these emails are always precious from home, WE DONT GET ENOUGH!), when suddenly we spotted this absolutely stunning Lioness, no more that 3 metres from the edge of the road.
A fitting end to a fantastic few days of driving in the bush? Well no not exactly, because Africa will always through up a surprise (sometimes many every day), as we started slowing down to enter the town, a young elephant ran across the road in front of us, he obviously wasn’t heading for the border, he wanted the town centre.
We are now at Chobe Safari Lodge Campsite, which is right on the edge of town (less than 5 minute walk to Choppies Supermarket), its a huge hotel/Lodge with 81 rooms, 2 bars, and the tightest campsite that we have ever stayed in! We really struggled to get into a camp area, but we have been here for 3 nights, and it is a wildlife park all on its own. Since being here we have seen Crocodile (one was about 2 metres from Jacs feet and the first we knew of it being the was it shooting off into the river), elephants, a snake (at the river edge), Vervet Monkey’s, Baboons, and lots of families of Warthogs. There are lots of security roaming the campsite, which I’m sure is for protecting against animals rather than petty theft. Today we have done all our clothes washing, and had a purge on an infestation of tiny ants (a constant problem in this heat), this travelling is so romantic eh.
The view from here over the Chobe River is stunning, but it has changed since we were last here about 7 years ago, there are lots more “evening cruise” boats now, some seem more about party boats rather than scenic cruises, so we won’t bother this time, this is strange as we hardly saw another vehicle while actually driving in the National Park.
But the birdlife is still the same, including this Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, and Striated Heron.
But we have a small tyre issue, whilst driving in the sand we somehow must have hit something sharp somewhere and have wrecked a rear Michelin ZXL. So tomorrow we are going to see about the possibility of replacing it. I did risk arrest whilst in town on Saturday to approach a Botswana Army truck to inspect the size of its tyres, they are old imperial sizes like ours, but a slightly wider rim size, but I’m sure I saw a smaller tyre on an older MAN truck earlier in the day. So fingers crossed that we can get a couple of tyres either here in Kasane or near the border at Francistown, we really want to get this sorted before we cross into Zimbabwe.
As you can see the damage is about 150mm long and deep enough to show the steel bands, amazingly the tyre held all the way to Kasane (though at a low speed). We will now change the wheel for the spare, but may end up hanging around for a bit until we can source a new tyre.
But hey, thats Africa!
Thanks for reading and sorry if its a bit long,
Travelling in Africa can do some funny things to your mind, obsessions start to form, sometimes on the most mundane subjects. Take onions for example, we have taken for granted that fresh onions are always readily available, and all the way down north and west Africa, we have been able to buy these by the bucket full (literally sometimes). You see, onions can grow in almost any sandy soil condition (as we saw in Senegal), and because of this we have got used to having a fresh, sliced onion as the basis of every meal we cook, curries, one pot stews, even a parcel of veg always has a sliced onion in it. But hang on, where are all the onions? Jac has become obsessed with finding onions, and it appears that they don’t have onions in the Caprivi Strip (well non rotten ones anyway).
We set off down the long road to Kongola, which is about half way along the Caprivi Strip, leaving behind the Okavango River, and headed for a camp spot on the Kwando River. On the way we stopped for a quick pee break (and get a fresh bottle of water out the fridge, to top up our pee), and across the road appeared a few children, very curious, but also very nervous of us. We have found that if you want the kids to be more accepting of you, the thing to to is give them a little “wiggle of the hips”! So after a quick boogie for them, and them in fits of giggles, they approached us slowly, so out came the toy box again. With old toys donated by our nephews and nieces, Hannah, Oskar, Albert, Herbie, Jess, Max and George (Ronnie and Reggie), they instantly rewarded us with miles of smiles.
Such simple little toys, give so much pleasure to these kids, smurfs, dinosaurs, dolls, cars, it doesn’t matter, its the fact that they have something.
The camp just outside Kongola, was a very quiet place, and again right on the river bank again, with just us there. Just us, and Timothy (the local lad that lights the “dolly boiler” for your hot shower), the Kwando River is a much quieter river than the Okavango that we left behind at Ngepi Camp.
But the bird life here was stunning, including this little fella, an African Golden Weaver, that was attacking itself in the mirrors, and windows of Colonel K, even after we chased it away, it still came back for another go, I not sure if it was looking for a mate, or was being territorial.
And there were quite a few Little Bee-Eater’s about especially in the morning.
There was a lodge as part of the campsite, with a bar and a restaurant, but you have to take a boat to it, and as we had plenty of food and drink (but no onions), we didn’t bother, and stayed all alone on the campsite. The facilities actually weren’t too bad here, with hot water for a shower (obviously only river water), and although there is no electricity here (in fact there is no electricity in the nearby village of Kongola, despite huge power lines running along the main road), they do have possibly the worlds smallest solar panel to power the bulbs inside the ablution block.
From here we wanted to drive the long bottom loop that runs down to the Linyanti Swamps, and then back up to the border town of Katima Mulilo, we really didn’t know what to expect on this route, and thought it might mean an overnight stop somewhere en-route, we were gobsmacked (and a little disappointed), to find that the entire route had recently been tarmac’ed. But it was a lovely day’s drive and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of tiny village communities along here (I guess thats why they surfaced the road).
Following a few good reviews on “i-overlander”, we decided to try the ‘Caprivi House Boat Safari Lodge’ for camping just outside Katima Mulilo, but not before doing some shopping at the new Pick-and Pay Supermarket, and guess what, they’ve got onions!!!! So we stocked up on all sorts of fresh fruit and veg, it was the best supplied shop since we left Tsumeb, we even got some nice bread and rolls here. The campsite here really is a lovely chilled place, it only has four camp spots, but again we were the only campers here. Oh and they have 3 lovely dogs, including the very friendly Great Dane, Ceaser, and a Labrador cross that the owner Kurt rescued. We stayed here for two nights, and had our “fill” of canine affection.
The lodge is right on the Zambezi river, and across the water is Zambia, with this particular river flowing very hard, and in flood at the moment heading towards Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. We hope to visit the falls after driving through Botswana (from the Zimbabwe side), and I guess its going to be in approx 1-2 months time, I just hope that the Falls at that time are as impressive as they must be now. Although all these rivers are in flood, its certainly not wet here at the moment, all this water is what fell many months ago in the faraway mountains in Angola. Much of this water will just fizzle out into the Kalahari Desert to the south.
Whilst here, we went on an evening boat trip down river for a few hours, once on the boat you realise how high the water levers are currently. According to Kurt, the temperature of the water is currently high enough for the crocodiles to remain in the water, and don’t go onto land until night fall (they can remain under water for 45 minutes before they need air).
Again the birdlife was spectacular, including this flock of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters.
And this Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater
And this bizarre African Open-Bill Stork.
We had a few beers on board, and shared the trip with three expat’s from Zimbabwe and Zambia, they were quite a laugh and had many tales to tell.
After settling our bill (including the honesty bar), which was less than £50.00, including the boat trip and camping for two nights, it was back on the road again to do the 330km trip back to Ngepi Camp, near Duvindu and the Botswana border post that we want to take, but not before a quick trip to the liquor store in town, to stock up on gin, tonic’s and wine. The detour around the Caprivi Strip was just over 800km’s, and although it was mostly boring tarmac, it was well worth doing, and again we met some great people along the way.
We had been away from Ngepi Camp for 4 nights, and as we got to about 2km from the lodge (down the sandy track, we were faced with this scene. This landscape here can change very very quickly!
Not too bad, we suggested, its only a flooded track, so on we went through the water which was only about 300mm deep up to this point. Then we took a slight detour through a small village and in front of us was what appeared to be a 4×4 car park. After stopping and chatting to a couple of members of staff from Ngepi, we were told that the causeway to the lodge is completely underwater, and is waist deep, oh and is flowing quite strongly. The lodge were laying on boats for guests to reach the site, but obviously we needed our truck to camp in, so after receiving detailed instructions from “Mr Chelsea Shirt” to stay within the canes with the Coke cans on the tops, we set out into the flooded river! Wow that was deep, our front winch was submerged, and out lower lockers were under water, I guess at its deepest it was about 1.0metre deep, that seriously got the adrenaline pumping. Then we got across the causeway only to be presented with this track to the lodge.
And this is the area in front of the lodge, completely flooded right up to reception, it meant getting out of Colonel K and knee deep in water (the lodge is in the far right of the photo).
It appeared that we were the only vehicle camping here, and so set off to pick a nice dry site. Amazingly the next day we walked to the reception for a quick beer to find about 3 other vehicles that had attempted and made it across the flooded causeway, all had their carpets and mats out drying in the sun, and of course the Landrover Defender was having trouble with his flooded electrics!! Africa really is split down the middle as far as 4×4’s are concerned, you are either Landrover or Toyota, and this is perfectly explained in this photo (obviously put there by a Toyota guy).
This is the entrance to one of the lodge’s “tree house’s”, as you can see the walkway to it is completely underwater.
The noises at Ngepi Camp are non-stop, especially the Hippos, that are hiding out in the reed beds, but occasional we could hear the unmistakable roar of Elephants of the far bank of the river, but as its very thick deep bush we never saw them, until one evening there was a huge group between the river and the trees.
We have seen the hippos in the water, blowing like a huge whale’s as they come up for a breath, but they seem reluctant to come out on to this bank to graze for some reason.
To give you some idea of the amount of flooded water there is, this photo is across to the track that we drove down, this is the “causeway” that is under water.
And to get to the bar……. Well, it requires a small amount of determination.
I spent many an hour trying to get a photo of the Go-Away Bird (yes thats its proper name), and although they are quite common here, they proved quite difficult to get a decent photo of, especially with the magnificent crest up (cause they go-away? sic). I still didn’t manage it really but after all that effort this was my best shot (a small obsession maybe?).
While at Ngepi camp, we encountered a very rare thing indeed, British overlanders! This was two couples, who have driven the whole of the western route, and managed it to Namibia in six months, that is seeing Africa at high speed. It was great to catch up with them and hear some of their many adventures. If you are interested they have a Facebook page “where to next africa”, and the funny thing is we have been watching their posts on FB (and they have seen lorrywaydown), and then you bump into them, its a small world eh. They are travelling in two very well sorted and equipped Landrover Discovery’s.
It was time for us to finally leave Namibia (mind you the Caprivi really does feel like another country), and so we set off across the flooded land again, the river was slightly higher and running a bit faster now but the Daf took it all in its stride. Check out Colonel K, phone in hand, already to call Dangermouse should the worst happen!
After a short drive through the national park, we arrived at the Mohembo border post, wow what a pleasant experience (its all relative), we were through both borders in about 45 minutes. The Botswana side even let us pay for our 3rd party insurance, road tax, and vehicle permit with our left over Namibian Dollars (all less than £16.00 for up to 90 days), and she gave us change! Lovely people, working very efficiently. After a chat with the Immigration Officer we were given 60 days in Botswana, and then if we want to re-enter later this year we can have another 30 days then. There were no costs for the visa.
After clearing the usual checks we drove to the nearby town of Shakawe, to find a ATM to get some local currency (Pula, approx 15 Pula to the GBP), and try to get a sim card for the mobile. We managed the currency ok (a Barclays Bank there with an ATM), but there was no-one selling local sim cards, this will have to wait until we get to Maun.
While in Choppies “supermarket” we brought a loaf of bread, and as is usually the case we looked around for the bread slicing machine with its operative standing nearby, nope no slicing machine, but thats ok we have a bread knife. When we got to the checkout we saw that the bread slicing machine was strangley located just inside the door, so after paying for our groceries we headed for the evil looking machine. No operative! No finger guard! No Instructions! After a few minutes of struggling how to work the machine without the twenty or so completely exposed blades taking my fingers off, two young local girls took over, and calmly pushed our loaf through, laughing all the time that the stupid white guy was scared of the blades. Her finger tips were so close to those blades, first pushing from one side then pulling from the other. Health and Safety ha!
We are now camped at a place called Drotsky’s, again on the Okavango River, its got a very tight and heavily forested way in (the Colonel got a few bumps to its top rails), and there are Vervet Monkey’s everywhere, we’ve never seen so many, so everything has to be locked away (these little blighters look cute but will dash in and steal anything).
Drotsky’s is a lovely camp, and the cabins here look amazing, but we are only going to stay one night and then head on the the Okavango Delta “town” of Maun. Loving Botswana so far……..
Thanks for reading
We left the mining town of Tsumeb, and headed the relatively short distance to “Roy’s Rest Camp”, en-route we diverted off the main route to visit the Hoba Meteorite. This is the largest meteorite that has ever been discovered on Earth, and weighs a staggering 60 tonnes, and apparently fell to Earth less than 80,000 years ago. There is no real crater at the site, so some believe it bounced (a bit like a stone skimming on a pond), from the crater site over near the west coast of Namibia. However it got here, it is mighty impressive to see (and for Jac to jump on).
The site is now a National Monument, and unlike most places like this in Africa (and that includes Namibia), it has been done really nicely, and obviously it doesn’t get that many visitors but its got decent toilets (Africa decent……..), and a small shop, apparently funds were made available by Rossing Uranium LTD to build the centre and protect the site (which had been damaged by vandals previously).
After a night at Roy’s (and giving three very excited Spanish women a guided tour of Colonel K), we set off to visit a San Bushman village. This was about a 130km round trip including 12km down a very narrow sand track to the village. It was a long drive “just to visit a village” but it was well worth it. The village is part of the Ju/Hoansi tribe (this is the localised tribe, but they are known as San Bushman in general terms). We were met with a very warm welcome, by a young lad that spoke reasonable English (he was the only person in the village that seemed to speak or understand English), who instructed us that we were going to meet a” San” hunter, who would show us how they make a fire. The old guy made it look very very easy.
There is a more “modern” part to the village about 2 kilometres further down the track,where about 400 people live. Apparently about 80 people live in the traditional way of the San, here in this amazing setting.
The San Bushman traditionally hunt their food with tiny bows and arrows, but make no mistake those arrows are deadly, as they are tipped with poison (made from the larvae of a particular beetle that feeds in a particular type of bush), and have sustained the tribesmen for many thousands of years. They rely on “stealth” creeping up on their quarry and hitting it from close range. I asked how long it takes for the poison to work and for the prey to die, after much chatting our young guide translated that if say a Giraffe or Eland (a large antelope) was hit with three arrows they would have to track the injured animal for about two days, and then hopefully get to the dying quarry before any of the other predators beat them to it. Life is, or was tough here.
Before we left the truck we had a debate about what footwear we should have on, trainers or full on walking boots (obviously to protect against snake bites, and scorpions, walking boots are a safer bet), but we figured that if we did walk with anyone in the bush, they would only have flip flops on, so we went with trainers. These guys were barefoot, there were no shoes to be seen anywhere, and trust me, the thorns in Namibia are huge and will puncture a car tyre. It was decided that they would take me and Jac on a ‘bush walk’, so off we went after the “Hunter” and our “guide”.
Whilst on our walk we were shown, a traditional snare, that was set up to catch ground feeding birds, which really are ingeniously set up, and super sensitive. Then we were shown a few of the herbs that they use, this included our young guide getting under a bush and digging with his bare hands to unearth a tiny piece of Camphor root.
We noticed that we were being followed by a couple of ladies from the village (we never did find out why), but they followed at a discreet distance, so I stopped and waited for them to come round the corner to take a photo of them, straight away, they smiled and posed for the camera.
Eventually we arrived back in the clearing of the village, and there were a lot more people up and about now, with many of the women making traditional jewellery.
At this point we were split up, Jac taken to do woman’s work (making jewellery) with an old lady, and me, well I did manly things like making a bow! I noticed when we were out walking, that the old fella had cut down a stick, but didn’t realise that this was to be the basis of my own start into archery. So whilst Jac was shaping Ostrich egg shell into round discs and drilling it with a stick with a pin in the end of it, I was shaping my bow and making the string from the fibre’s of a local plant.
Then hey presto…. Jac’s had a fantastic necklace and bracelet made, and I had my very own bow! Apparently Jac’s bracelet was free but if she wanted the necklace (which was very nice), it was $80NAD (about £3.50), and my bow was free, but if I wanted any arrows they were $40NAD each, so I bought one bone tipped one, and one steel tipped one (I was not trusted with the poison).
So Jac was wearing her stuff, so that meant I had to try out my bow! The village elder decided we should re-enact a hunting scenario, and so we had to creep up on our “quarry”, and then loose our arrows into the tiny target. It was great fun but he seemed to be taking it all very seriously.
I even managed to hit the target on my fourth go, I was pretty chuffed.
We were then taken back to the village clearing, and the village elder told us that the women would carry out some traditional dancing for us, so off he went to round up some willing participants.
The first part involved a strange dance using a fruit that they called a ‘mango-orange’, and involved each woman doing a short dance and then throwing it behind them for the next woman to catch and carry on the dance, this is a traditional dance when the men return with a successful kill.
Then of course Jac got ‘roped in’ to dance with these tiny people, I was videoing it, and it was so funny to watch, the camera was shaking.
Lastly a dance was performed showing how a sick person could be healed using the power of the mind (the guy smokes something to take him into a trance), this was quite an eerie sight and very atmospheric.
Eventually we had to say our farewell’s, and we were taken back to our truck by our guide and was shown the “shop” to see if we wanted to buy any of the items made in the village.
Obviously I had to buy a quiver for my two arrows! At the shop there was a small girl with her mum, and Jac decided this was the perfect time to give away one of the many second hand toys that we brought back to Africa, that were kindly donated by our great nephews and nieces. So after a quick rummage in the toy box, Jac presented the little girl with a Minnie Mouse, that was donated by my sister’s daughter Hannah. This simple gift has made this little girl a very happy bunny!
We felt very privileged to have been allowed to visit these people and we had an amazing day seeing how they live. It seems that the young San people now aren’t interested in learning these ancient ways, and would rather either work on the local farms or move to the nearby towns. It’s a real shame, as this village has shown that tourists would support these local communities.. We really had a great day.
As though to prove this fact, Jac decided for the first time on this trip she would try driving the Colonel. She done good!
After another night at “Roy’s”, we set off for the northern town of Rundu, and after driving through the scruffy but booming town, we came to the turning off the gravel track down to the campsite that we were aiming for. After about two kilometers we were faced with a seriously flooded track infront of us, there was a sign to say that it was flooded for 0.8km, and the depth was 800mm, the trouble was we couldn’t actually see the route of the track, and could we actually trust this sign? Or indeed was the campsite open anyway? There was a local guy sitting there that assured us that we could manage the flood in the truck, but we decided to turn around and find another campsite. If we had to cross it we probably would have gone for it, but with no markers visible, it was only for a campsite ,we decided that discretion was best used here. We ended up at a campsite/lodge quite near the town centre, but still overlooking the flooded Okavango River, this is the border with Angola.
Our plan was to get some fresh fruit and veg, and spend one night here only, then head on down the Caprivi Strip (Zambezi), the next day. Plans never quite work out eh…….
The next day after a leisurely breakfast and a long chat with a South African couple (the only other campers here), we set off for the village of Divundu, about 200km’s east. After about 30km on the bumpy tarmac road, the steering on the Daf went mental, shaking and shuddering, so we stopped. I expected to see a punctured tyre. but no all tyres were fully inflated.So I got underneath and checked the steering to see if anything had worked loose, but all seemed ok, so we set off. About 2km’s further down the road, it happened again, and it wouldn’t clear the very violent shaking until we completely stopped. After another longer look underneath, and checking the wheels we decided to return to Rundu to try get it sorted there. After a slow drive back, and asking lots of people we eventually found a truck repair workshop, ATR (Advanced Truck Repairs), this reminded us of our local village garage but much bigger!
The workshop foreman, decided (as I thought) that it was probably a ‘shot’ wheel bearing, so he got one of the guys to jack up all four corners and check the wheels, nope all good here. Then an older mechanic noticed that the front tyres (and the left hand side in particular) were wearing unevenly, so got the guy to swap the spare for the worst worn tyre. We then took it for a test drive, and amazingly it seemed ok! He deduced that the wheels were badly out of alignment and this needed doing urgently, so we booked it in the next morning for 7.30am.
The next morning arrived and it was wet, very wet, but here a bit of rain doesn’t stop anything, and the guys carried on setting up the lazer equipment, and eventually (after freeing up the seized track rod ends), set up the truck hopefully with perfectly aligned wheels (fingers crossed). What you can’t see on the photo below is the guy under the truck, laying in about 3 inches of water.
Anyway after 5.5 hours of labour (for two guys mostly), and the wheels aligned we paid our bill (approx £90.00), and finally set off for Divundu at about lunchtime. All seems good with the steering now, with no shaking, so again fingers crossed.
We headed for Ngepi Camp, which we phoned ahead to make sure it was accessible during the flood season, we were told that the camp was accessible all year round even by a 2 wheel drive! Well I’m not sure what sort of 2wd vehicles that he meant, but it wasn’t a Fiesta or Focus! It was a long slow 5km drive down a bumpy sandy track to the camp, but what a camp, it really is a great place, right on the banks of the Kavango River.
The river is fully in flood at the moment (running into the Okavango Delta in nearby Botswana), and is full of crocodile’s and hippo’s (which you can hear constantly). The thing that Ngepi Camp is most famous for is its Ablutions! Some of these toilets and showers have had so much thought and work put into them, including the “Poopa Falls” WC (this was the nearest toilet to our camp spot).
Even the plumbing looks like something out of the old “mouse trap” game. But the view from up there on your “throne” is breathtaking (for a toilet) over the flooded farmland away from the river.
And of course you have to share it with “friends”.
And then there is the appropriately named “lav-a-tree” which has been built up over a fallen tree.
It is a lovely rustic, and amusing place with a great relaxed atmosphere, after our loop of the Caprivi Strip we will return here before crossing the nearby border into Botswana, a beautiful, and wild place.
Thanks for reading
We have just had a very hectic but also enjoyable 19 days back in England.
During this time we tried to see as many family and friends as possible, but obviously we were unable to see everybody. We would like to thank everyone that we did see, for making time to see us, and especially those that put up with us staying the night (or nights, in Karen, and Kev’s case). Jac’s brother was kind enough to lend us his car for the whole time, during which we did 2,800 kilometers (just over 1,700 miles), thanks so much Kev.
The massive plus for us driving a Toyota Prius for 19 days, is that I have calculated that to off set our carbon footprint for the past year (during 30,000km in a 5.9L four wheel drive truck), we need to plant two trees, this will then wipe the slate clean! Ok maybe not, but it was a pleasant surprise doing 60mpg in the Prius.
Obviously, seeing everyone for the first time in over 12 months was a big thing for us, but there were a few very special highlights. We did quite a bit of walking in the fantastic English countryside, including meeting and walking on the South Downs with our friends Ray and Aileen, which included a great pub lunch half way (thanks guys), we also had a lovely few hours walk with Kev, Pauline, Jen and Matt, which again ended in a pub (a recurring theme) starting from the stunning Sissinghurst Castle. Jac and I also did a few walks locally around the area that we live. Despite the fact that we were in England in March, the weather was kind to us, and certainly reminded us how beautiful England can be, what ever the time of year.
One day during our trip home will remain in our memories here in Africa for a very long time. We had arranged to stay the night at our friends Richard and Jocie’s over in East Kent, and told them we would be at their house at lunchtime, after a quick hello and coffee, we were told that we would be taking a bus ride and knowing that Richie likes a beer, I assumed it was a bus to a nearby village for a pub lunch. After a short wait at the bus stop the four of us plus Ghillie the Springer Spaniel, got on the bus and started heading for Canterbury. Every time we stopped I expected us to get up and exit the bus, but no, we went right into the city centre. Jocie and Richard, sort of apologised for taking us into town (we are not city folk, but hey a city pub would be fine), after a short walk we entered the side gate (non public) entrance of Canterbury Cathedral. At this point I should point out that Jocie works part time at the Cathedral. After waiting outside the offices for a few minutes, Jocie appeared with a lady called Chris and two short wave radios. With a huge grin both Jocie and Chris announced that we were going to be taken up Bell Harry Tower.
The Tower is not open to the public on health and safety grounds, but Jocie had amazingly got permission to take us up there, after a long climb up the very tight spiral stairs including a brief stop at the entrance to the wheel room (we were not allowed entry to the room), the four of us (Richie and Ghille remained at ground level) clambered through the tiny door out onto the roof of the tower. What a fantastic 360 degree view we had from up there! Including this view towards Kings School (part of the Cathedral).
And this view down onto the main Cathedral and towards the ruins of the old infirmary.
On the way down we paused at the fabulous Wheel Room and marveled at how two men walking in this “giant hamster wheel” managed to bring up the stone and other building materials to this level to enable the building work to carry on above.
Then we came out into a gallery (not sure of the correct terminology), and looked down on the shrine where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, and was subsequently buried.
What an amazing experience, we felt very privileged to have been given access to the tower, but I will never forgive Jocie for not giving me warning about it! I didn’t have my trusty Panasonic camera, and only had our iPhone 4s, so sorry for the quality of the photo’s, blame Richie and Jocie!
Next stop was a pub for lunch, then a pub on way back and finally a fantastic dinner in the evening, cheers guys.
We were thoroughly spoilt during our time back in the UK, and probably put on a couple of kilo’s each! Not sure why, but oh the cakes.
We have realised that we have missed a few things while away, these being the long walks, and not having a dog with us! It has also confirmed a few things that we definitely do not miss, these being the hideous traffic in South East of England, and the Television! …………TV has got to be the worlds biggest time waster, and amazingly the UK probably has some of the worlds best TV, but to me it is 99% rubbish, and watching TV very rarely enhances your life, it just wastes it! Rant over, sorry.
We had a small drama at Heathrow Airport on the way back, we had booked return flights with South African Airways, and obviously this was our return leg of those flights, but while checking in, we were asked if we had return flights booked, we told them that this WAS our return flight and that we were returning to our vehicle in Windhoek to carry on travelling. After much debate with lots of people (quite heated at times), we were instructed by a supervisor that SAA could not let us board the flight without a flight booked back out of Namibia! Apparently they are concerned that we may be turned back at the immigration desk at Windhoek Airport, and that they would pick up a fine for this and have to pay to get us out of Namibia. So in the end we agreed to buy two fully refundable flights from Windhoek to Jo’burg. This was a crazy situation, and of course no-one asked to see our return ticket at the immigration desk anyway!
But we are now back in Namibia, we collected Colonel K from the storage near the airport, and then the next day we drove nearly 500km to a campsite near Tsumeb in Northern Namibia, stopping en-route at a Pick And Pay supermarket to restock our fridge and food supplies. Today’s mission was to find somewhere to refill our UK 6kg gas bottle, and our 5kg South African gas bottle, the second one was easy (done a local builders merchants), the UK bottle was a bit trickier and took us to four different places before we managed to find somewhere that could do it, the cost was £7.00.
Poor Jac has come back to Namibia with a stinking cold, which is typical, after we have spent the last year away free of any illness.
Thanks to Jac’s sister Karen, Colonel K is officially the best dressed overland truck in Southern Africa! She has made us some very smart blinds for the inside of the 3 large windows, the main use for these are to drop them down while driving or parked up while away from the truck, this will help keep the inside cool (you are not supposed to drive with the build-in Seitz blinds closed as it puts too much pressure on the spring mechanism), but they will also help with privacy sometimes (we can’t keep them down all night as they stop the air flow, and so the heat builds up). The ties allow for them to be part down so they are really versatile. Thanks so much Kaz x
Tomorrow we are heading North East towards the Caprivi Strip (or Zambezi Strip as its officially known now, Namibia is trying to lose its old colonial roots and changing many old Germanic names), and then into Botswana.
We are so glad to be back in Africa and living in the truck again, and are really looking forward to the adventure that we face over the coming months.
He was last heard from in the South Western Malian town of Kita, in March 2003, but there was a confirmed sighting of him in the Mali capital city of Bamako in April 2003. I don’t know Chris but his sister is a good friend of my niece, this is a genuine missing guy. Its hard to imagine what that family have been going through for these past 13 years.
If anyone has any information about this guy please let me know and I will pass it on.
The last post on lorry way down was done by James and Nicky once they returned to the UK. I’m not going to go over that whole 11 days again, but there were a few things that were either “forgotten” about by James or were big highlights for me and Jac, that perhaps weren’t emphasised by James in his post, so I’m going to address that here, and tell you what we’ve been doing for the last few weeks.
A couple of days before the arrival of “the dentists”, we drove to the campsite that we were to spend their first night with them at (they were to have a lovely chalet room). This is in a beautiful National Reserve about 20km outside of the Capital city of Windhoek, and there are a few set out walking routes into the hills surrounding the camp, so the day before we were due to meet them, we set out early to beat the heat of the day to do a medium level walk (it took us nearly 4 hours). The paths obviously don’t get walked very often, especially as you get further from the camp. The bushes were covered in huge caterpillars that were munching on the new green growth brought about by the rains. There were thousands of them everywhere, each one about 50mm long and consuming a massive amount of food.
About two hours into this walk, on a very narrow steep stoney section, we heard a brief noise from a scrub next to us, we both stopped to see what it was, then out of the back of the bush, shot a huge Black Mamba snake (luckily heading away from us). It was lightening fast, then abrubtly stopped, lifted his head and about 3 feet of his body, turned, looked straight at us, and thankfully decided that again he would head away from us. This all happened very very quickly, but we both got a good long look at this amazing animal (this is our first ever Black Mamba in the wild). Below is the only photo I got of the snake, its a bit shaky and he was very fast!
We are always very cautious about the possibility of being near snakes and scorpions, especially when out walking, and this incident did nothing to dull our careful behaviour. We decided not to tell James and Nicky about our encounter, but to encourage them to be careful.
James and Nicky were extremely lucky with their animal encounters, especially at the Palmwag Conservancy, and Etosha NP, it was after all the height of the “wet season”, and with that comes the new growth of the vegetation, in both grass and scrub it becomes much harder to spot wildlife especially the smaller animals such as Lion, Hyena, and the smaller Antelope. But boy were we all lucky? oh yes, and a particular high light for me was seeing the Spotted Hyena (five of them together devouring a carcass) at Palmwag.
Also at Palmwag we were treated to the most stunning sunrise (typical rainy season sunrise I think).
By the time we got to Etosha, the worse of this spell of rains seemed to have passed, though the skies were still stormy, and the tracks flooded in places.
Now as I write this, we have been away over 350 days, and have had some great and funny moments all this trip, but one incident in Etosha had me and Jac’s laughing so much that my kidneys hurt for days afterwards! We were following James and Nicky in there big burly Nissan Navara 4×4 along a very small side track that looped out into the bush for about 30km (a sort of optional diversion), and this was very slow going, as James for some reason seemed reluctant to drive through the flooded centre part of the track (you really couldn’t see how deep they were, and some WERE deep) This was not an issue in the truck as our wading depth is……….. well very deep! Anyway at one of the biggest floods, James drove right up round the rim of the puddle, and so left a nice big opening for me to stuff the Daf up the inside line and splash the Nissan in the process. That flood WAS deep and with our sudden added speed we drove a huge wall of filthy dirty water right over the Nissan, oh my god how me and Jac laughed! Then reality kicked in as Jac suggested that Nicky might have had the passenger window open!!!! Luckily James likes his air-conditioning and all windows were shut. This incident ended up with us taking the Nissan into Tsumeb a few days later to get it professionally cleaned.
Strangely it was the Elephants that were lacking in numbers in Etosha (compared to previous visits to the park), but we did see some, which was great for J & N.
There were some epic sunsets too, further enhanced by the rainy season.
And of course, there was the birdlife, perhaps something that interests me and Jac, more than it does James and Nicky, but stunning as always.
Several times I had to remind James to be a bit more cautious with where he was treading or what he was touching, he was getting very blasé about being bare foot or in light shoes (dentist’s eh?) especially when he had is drone out, all his fear and cautiousness seemed to just disappear into thin air.
They were also lucky to have the extremely close encounter with the Rhino in Etosha (thankfully he was chilled, and not bothered by our presence), but it did highlight the fact that you can see something at anytime in Etosha, you need to be looking all the time.
The second to last night we stayed at Tsumeb, with James and Nicky opting to camp instead of a lodge (which they had already paid for), and early evening me and Jac decided to go for a shower while James and Nicky put up their roof tent (the sky was looking a little dark and threatening), by the time we had finished our showers it was raining in biblical proportions! All the paths were flooded, the massive swimming pool (by African standards) was overflowing, the wind was threatening roofs, it was relentless! Thinking about poor James and Nicky stuck out in that awful weather, trying to hold on to that tent which by now must surely be torn to tatters, we decided to do the English gallant thing and head to the bar under the fully covered way! After 2 or 3 beers, in walked a pair of drowned rats, fully covered in bright yellow poncho’s! I don’t think the locals had ever seen anything like it. Anyway we had a great night from then on with far too much to drink.
We had a fantastic 11 days with James and Nicky, and indeed it was with a heavy heart that we had to say goodbye to them at Windhoek Airport.
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that we have booked flights to return to the UK, but luckily for the fair people of Britain we have also booked flights to return to Namibia. So we are having about two and half weeks back in Blighty! It will be great to catch up with all our family and friends, and especially my big sister who’s a bit poorly at the moment.
So we decided to head for Swakopmund on the Namibian coast to do some bits on the truck. We chose Swakopmund because it has plenty of decent workshops/garages, lots of coffee shops and restaurants, and the climate is better for working in (and chilling). So over the last couple of weeks we’ve had the truck serviced, had a small hole in the silencer welded up (strangely worn through by the clamp, not rotted), we’ve also fitted 16metres of 50mm yellow high visibility tape to the sides of Colonel K, in anticipation of countries to come in East Africa, such as Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
We have also finally got rid of the carpet tiles, and fitted some new PVC click-in flooring (by god such a small area, and yet so much cutting), this is much better and so much more practical with the sands of Africa getting trodden into the truck every day.
Nothing here gets wasted, and within 10 minutes of the carpet tiles hitting the bin, they had been washed cleaned and laid out to dry. We have also taken off the door into the toilet and junked that too, it was a pain in the neck, and as its only ever me and Jac using the truck, we thought we could do without it.
We have also decided to shorten the truck by two feet!
Although we have used the mountain bikes quite a bit here in Swakopmund, we know that during the next phase of our travels these will become a liability and at best can be expected to get wrecked on the rear rack (even covered with a tarpaulin). So we are going to bring them home with us on the flights (SAA actually allow each person on top of the usual 23kg suitcase, a piece of sporting goods up to 23kg also), so we thought lets just cut the rear rack off and just use the rear hoist and rack as the spare wheel carrier. This will also save us a large amount (over £500) when we come to ship the Colonel back to the UK. The Roll-on Roll-off vessels charge per cubic meterage so cutting 600mm off the length reduces our charges by nearly 5.5m3, at over £90 per m3 (once surcharges are added on), so a big saving.
So we bought a nice Hitachi angle grinder, a few spare cutting wheels, and big file, took a deep breath and started cutting.
Please note the usual African safety equipment being used, flip flops, and cheap sunglasses! After Jac took this photo, she insisted that I dress more sensibly while using this cutting equipment, so I put on my Weird Fish baseball cap!
Please note the extensive use of work bench to support the metal work. But at last it was done.
The weight of all that box section steel was mega, with the plate on the top, the cycles, and holders, I guess we have removed well over 100kg from the rear of the truck (don’t forget this was hanging way out beyond the rear axle), only time will tell if we notice this while driving. But we have had many comments from police along the way about the cycle rack being dangerous, with sharp edges, at least (in the words of Forrest Gump) “thats one less thing to worry about”. Again very quickly, all the metal work was taken away by the staff for reuse.
Speaking about movies, we were taken out for the day by a great South African bloke called Charl (its french apparently), in his short wheel based Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun in the UK), he was like a tour guide that specialised in property viewing. During that day we drove around all the swish new housing developments in both Walvis Bay, and Swakopmund, there really are some huge houses going up in this area. Anyway Charl wanted to take us round the back of Dune 7 (the seventh biggest dune in the world) and to the bottom of Dune 2 (the second biggest ……. you get the idea), it turns out the latest Mad Max movie (with Tom Hardy as Max) has large sections filmed between these dunes. As some of you know I’m a massive fan of the Mad Max films and it was great to be in the same place that George Miller shot some of his footage.
Anyway after extracting the Mitsubishi from the sand, we had a lark about on the side of the massive Dune 2.
Charl then took us to Walvis Bay “waterfront” for a fantastic lunch, consisting of copious amount of seafood for not very much money, £30.00 for all three of us including, beers, wine (for the lady), and coffee’s, it was extremely good.
This (not so) little fella was just wandering up and down the front of the restaurant, and really wasn’t bothered by humans at all.
We first met Charl a few months ago at our previous stop at Swakopmund, and I think he was pleased to see a face that he recognised. He camps at Tiger Reef campsite when not working in Iraq or Kuwait (he services and maintains diving equipment), and he is waiting for a call to go back out there to resume the cutting up of a bombed oil tanker that is obstructing one of the oil pumping stations. It was really interesting listening to the mind boggling figures that he is used to in his line of work.
Its not until you stay at a place for a while that you really start to get to meet people, and Swakopmund is no different. We met a lovely couple that are native white born Namibians that moved from Windhoek to Swakopmund about 10 years ago and brought with them a fantastic Austin Seven car.
Apparently this car has only ever been in Namibia, being shipped when new in 1933 to the then British run enclave of Walvis Bay. It has spent its whole life here in this harsh environment, and in its early days was supposed to have taken missionaries to the far north of the country, and remember there were NO roads then. He also has a Wileys Jeep and an old 1930’s Dodge Convertible.
So we will have been in Swakopmund for quite a while before we fly back to Blighty, and we like it here, but we are looking forward to seeing everyone back home, before continuing on with our little trip for another year (thanks to the ADAC in Germany for issuing us a new Carnet de passage, and no thanks to the RAC in the UK).
We will certainly miss the beautiful Flamingo’s and Pelican’s that we see every single day at Tiger Reef
Thanks for reading
1700 Miles in the company of Vinnie, Jac and the Col K. A grand tour of Namibia with its sights, animals and highlights. A huge 4×4 with a tent on the top. To camp or to stay in a lodge? What would a couple of southern softies and strangers to camping opt to do?
Nicky and I have been asked to write this blog about our trip and time with Vinnie and Jac, to compare our expectations of Namibia and what we actually found. This gave them the opportunity to rest from writing for a week
So this is what it’s like to follow the Colonel for 10 days
I knew that we would be traveling behind the Colonel K in a Nissan 4×4 with a roof tent. We aimed to split our 10 nights between staying in lodges and camping in the tent. I was keener on the tent idea than Nicky. The last time I had camped was in the 4th form with the cadet force, all I could remember was it raining all the time and the smell of bacon in the morning. Nicky’s last attempt was with the Girl Guides and all she could remember is that it rained all the time!
Well, as Namibia is currently enduring its worst drought for ages, we thought there would be no problem.
Vinnie had organised an 10-day tour of the countryside that would show us all of its aspects, spending each night at a different site.
I was expecting a barren country looking pretty much the same all over, and I was expecting to see poverty in places and then hopefully some animals, but as we were not expecting to go on any organised safaris I was not that hopeful of seeing any of the ‘Big Five’. I was expecting places to eat to be basic and the food to be mediocre but friendly people.
Nicky is a self-confessed control freak and only used to beach type holidays, with bikinis, white jeans and hair straighteners and definitely no tents. Whatever happened, it was going to be different. As a result she was extremely anxious if not a little scared.
I did know that Vinnie could organise a great motorbike trip and this was going to be no different.
This was going to be our home
For our 1st night, it had been decided that after 13 hours of flying to Windhoek, with a 5 hour stop in JoBurg, we would be in lodgings so that we could catch up on sleep. Vinnie had arranged SunKarros in Daan Viljoen National Park.
For V and J
For J and N
It was a lovely room, comfortable bed and a really good night’s sleep!
We now had our 1st lesson in bushcraft! Vinnie demonstrated to us how to stomp Frodo style across the meadow to ward off any sleeping snakes.
We ate in the restaurant and that blew away my misconception that the food would be average at best, it was brilliant.
Day 1 was a trip to Sossusvlei Sand dunes
Traveling out through Windhoek we saw our 1st Township
Our next big culture shock was leaving tarmac and onto the gravel roads, almost all roads are gravel. Even in a huge 4×4 these shake like mad, it’s a question of finding the speed at which things stop resonating, usually about 30mph or 50kph.
At our coffee stop we had to pay a small child to “mind our car”. I had been expecting behaviour like this but in actual fact it didn’t happen again.
The scenery was showing us things we hadn’t encountered before like this Weaver bird nest
This is a communal type of nest. A different type of weaver bird builds individual nests.
This picture shows the difference in size of vehicles
(and that 4×4 is Big making the Colonel huge- so huge in fact that every where we stop other overlander’s kept taking photos of it)
The road ran in between 2 mountains inhabited by plenty of springbok
We stopped at the entrance to the Sossusvei park and went into the little shop to buy a snack. When we came out Jac noticed that the Nissan was listing quite badly. It was apparent that we had a puncture, and I’m sure it was ok when we arrived. Just as Vinnie and I were rigging up the jack a young ranger came along and offered to repair the tyre for about £3. When I asked him his name he told us it was ‘Shady’. We couldn’t have made it up, so from then on Vinnie called him ‘Slim Shady”
We even had a sand storm to deal with while we were getting the wheel off.
From there it was a 20 mile trip on a dedicated road to the dunes.
The rusty red sand dunes in Sossusvlei are a bit bigger than the ones in StAnnes on Sea that I’m used to.
I had the experience of driving the 4×4 in low range 4 wheel drive through the soft sand under the instruction “Do not stop under any circumstances – just keep powering through”
We climbed a dune and even tried skiing down, but even Frodo’s big feet didn’t work
On the way it rained. This was the 1st rain this part of the country had seen in 2 years. We really had brought our terrible English winter all the way with us.
We had a little extra stress because we had to arrive at the lodge before dark. The Col has very dark tinted windows to keep the heat to a minimum during the day but apparently it is quite difficult to see at night.
That night we lodged again, this time in Gondwana Namib Desert Lodge north of Sesriem
And had another good meal in restaurant with V and J but their campsite was 5km down the track near the gatekeeper’s lodgings. V had a chat with him only to discover he’d been a former paratrooper who had become disillusioned by what it all stood for and was now living with his memories.
Our next trip was to be another interesting experience.
It started with a stop at Solitaire. In the middle of nowhere it has a superb bakery founded by a Dutchman. Why anybody thought they could make a bakery work in the wilderness beats me, but it obviously does. It is complete with a collection of old wrecks
I saw my 1st zebra close up
Not the best photo I admit but note the stripes on face and legs because they are different to the ones we’d see later
We crossed the tropic of Capricorn and as tradition would have it we signed it somewhere in the vicinity of where Charley Boorman had done on his ‘Long way Down’ programme.
(The Tropic of Capricorn is the imaginary line along the southernmost point at which it is possible for the sun to be directly overhead at noon)
We went through and over 2 passes
Had a cup of tea and tried to fly my drone on the edge of the desert
And saw a quiver tree. These are very old and as name suggests were used to make arrow holders (quivers), but they have the most beautiful shiny golden bark.
Then began the unexpected trip. What felt like hundreds of miles across nothingness with no other cars about. We were guessing how far it was between bends- the longest we got to was 9.5km without having to turn the steering wheel.
After this desolate landscape of the desert, the sea of Walvis Bay complete with its shipwrecks suddenly appeared in such stark contrast.
We drove up to Swakopmund to stay the night. I love seaside resorts because of where I grew up. Each has its own character but they each harbour (forgive the pun) an atmosphere unique to them. This one was weird because it had buildings not dissimilar to those in Disneyland.
This was to be our 1st night in the tent
We had our own private bathroom with shower and all in all it was way more comfortable than either of us had imagined.
Jac had booked us a meal in the popular Tug Restaurant. One of their favourites and I can see why. It would fit in anywhere in the world. Better still the bill for 4 of us including drinks was less than £50!
This next day’s drive would take us to the foot of Brandberg
(Being half German I just love the fact that the names of so many places are in German. Brandberg is next to Spitzkopf, which would be the pointy one then, wouldn’t it!)
The camp here is right next to the riverbed where my 1st chance to see elephants would be. Not just any old elephants but Desert Elephants. These are not captive in game reserves but wander many miles sometimes passing right next to campers without tripping over guy ropes.
The drive down to the campsite was a lonely bumpy track through the most beautiful landscape in the shadow of Namibia’s biggest mountain. (Brandberg)
We all had our eyes peeled for these creatures but when we got to the lodge we were told they had passed through, on their way north because of the rain. But luckily we were traveling north too, so we hadn’t lost hope
As you see we were introduced to open air shower and loo!
I successfully started a fire using a flint stick thingy and cotton wool, given to me by my nurses for my birthday, a la Bear Grylls
The lodge had very westernised Garden, and we had a chance to swim and relax.
and a fabulously friendly Meercat
A less accommodating lizard that thought he was auditioning for Superman
J&V cooked us a great one pot meal and that topped off our 1st real night of proper camping.
Next was to take us to Palmwag Lodge . We swapped over vehicles so that Nicky could enjoy a trip with V in the cab of the Col and Jac drove me in the Nissan so that I could take photos and enjoy the scenery without having to concentrate on the road.
The scenery was starting to get seriously green and consequently quite beautiful.
Signs of warning of elephants filled me with hope.
I promise if I was still a student I’d have nicked that road sign for my room.
I was attempting to learn the ancient art of tracking and was guessing that this
meant “elephant has been, but ages ago.” (It’s very neat isn’t it, it appeals to the German in me for neatness)
We stopped at Twyfelfontein for lunch. This was one my favourite unexpected finds of the holiday. The lodge was beautiful and blended in with the scenery almost invisibly. The views were amazing, the restaurant superb and it even had ancient tribal engraving in the stone walls.
I would definitely recommend stopping here if you are passing. This was way beyond what I’d imagined in Namibia.
I got my 1st close up of a giraffe
Nicky and I lodged at Palmwag which was a lodge dedicated to safari drives with a team of guides as well as students and post grads doing research into desert lions. It sits on a riverbed (in Namibia these never have water in them unless the Whiteheads have arrived. It never rains in Namibia)
This gives you an impression of how green it can become given a bit of rain
This is the river bed which saw the desert elephants passing through only earlier that day! 15 of them. We immediately booked ourselves on a safari the following day to try and find them, to satisfy my urge to bag the 1st of the ‘Big 5’ and not just any elephant but a desert elephant. Worth 50 of a park elephant.
Well after dinner it rained, in fact it didn’t rain it just fell out of the sky. 21mm in an hour. Even the frogs joined us in reception. We sat the rain out listening to the thunder and missed the local leopard doing his nightly tour of the estate. Why they didn’t tell us I don’t know.
In the morning we were treated to a sunrise
And gathered for our 1st ever safari
(The colonel had leaked and V had slept with a bucket balanced on his tummy)
Erwin was to be our guide. Knowledgeable in everything vegetable, animal or bird.
Just after we set off in our wagon with a postgrad studying lion behaviour we stopped so that Erwin could warn us about the plant that was in most plentiful supply.
This plant kills humans if they eat it. It even kills them if they touch it! Here he is breaking a leaf to show us the milk that comes out of it. Rhinos eat it. And elephants sleep on it because it is soft and comfortable.
Just around the next bend we came upon a pack of spotted hyenas. The Lion King is correct- they are scary little buggers. I do not want to meet one in a dark alley never mind 5. The look in their eyes has no remorse. They don’t even stop to spit out bones, hence the white poo that they do. (I haven’t seen any of that since the 70s)
Well they glared at us like Millwall supporters without the beercans and I was glad we had Erwin and Vince to save us.
We saw Oryx that look like deer with underpants pulled over their faces
The scenery looked like this
lots of ‘elephant pillows”
next up was a black backed Jackal
This is Erwin early on; realising Vinnie was a bad influence and sending him to the naughty step
Our vehicle for the day
That 4.2 litre Toyota could climb up and over anything.
We searched and searched, stopping only to examine elephant poo and debris they had eaten and discarded
until, with hopes raised, Erwin worked out that they were this way!
So off we trolled but sadly to no avail. The Whiteheads were to miss the desert elephants by a day yet again!
Zebra roam with Springboks in what looks like a brickmakers back yard
and iguanas (Chameleon, James, Chameleon) try to hide
This lizard is about to spawn, if you zoom in you can see the lumps of its eggs
Now we were off to Kamanjab just outside Etosha National Park
1st though the Vet Fence, originally erected to prevent spread of Foot and Mouth disease, but now only there to supply some officers with free uncooked meat. They are obliged to confiscate this, and to wind up Vinnie and Jac who can’t see the point of the vet fence because only yards away animals quietly wander by while your truck is having its wheels sprayed and you are dipping every single shoe in a disinfectant
Now it was here I met my 1st Himba woman.
Earlier Erwin had told us a little about tribes, he was a Hereto but another tribe were Himba.
Himba women do not wear any clothes above the waist, ever. They do not wash, ever. And at the age of 8 or 9 the children have their lower incisors smashed out with a rock! As dentists, Nicky and I were quite speechless. He couldn’t explain, other than that it was their culture as if this made it ok. Any way, I had to have a photo and I would have to pay for it too, or at least Jac had to because I had no small notes.
Sadly it’s out of focus but Jac wasn’t going to pay twice. I think the Himba woman was a bit surprised because most adult men want photos of her chest, she was quite taken aback that I had no interest in her breasts. 200 Namibian dollars that cost, about £8. Nicky got 3 bracelets from her for £2.
We passed lots of millipedes
They were all crossing the road because the grass was greener on the other side.
Kamanjab was a proper campsite. There were lodges but we all camped again.
It was just outside Etosha leaving us only a short drive to the gate.
Now we were talking! The veritable arc of all Namibia’s animals (apart from desert elephants)
Greeted at the check in desk by the friendliest and most intelligent of homosapiens – not . Single tasking was a step too far; we had met the missing link.
(Honestly in the whole of our time in Namibia she was the only person who did not have a bright outlook on life)
Finding the animals suddenly became a distinct possibility.
1st up were some easy ones
“You ain’t seen me right!”
and then in the distance
Blast- just missed him, but I’ve seen the back end of an elephant.
Notice the rain in the background
What a beautiful animal! How could anybody want to harm one of these! Magnificent doesn’t begin to describe him.
For those interested in improving their tracking skills, this means an elephant is very near
We pitched our vehicles in the camp site of Olifantrus. A safe enclave within the park and we are but yards from the fence that separates us from the animals and Vinnie has chosen us a site very close to the water hole. This hole has a viewing gallery like the largest twitchers’ hut ever seen. It arcs around the inside of a crescent shaped pond, and is covered. It is elevated and there are red lights to light up the animals in the dark. . There are no windows. Silence is key, apart from one chap with emphysema whom the animals seem to accept. Perhaps some of their elderly relatives can’t breath quietly either!
Out of the gloom loped a female Lioness Chalk off ‘Big 5’ number 2! Now we are smoking. Even the guy with emphysema has forgotten to breathe now.
She ambles up to the water and after a cursory sniff starts to lap it up with big furry tongue.
This would have been the moneyshot
but I can’t hold the lens still enough with beating heart.
The excitement is palpable and we go back to camp with a glass of Champagne. We deserve it – we’ve seen an elephant and a cat in one day. Unfortunately we have camped on the same spot as what Vinnie correctly identified as Party Moths.
Now most moths are attracted to the light. Not these little buggers. They are a) not that little, and b) only attracted to alcoholic beverages and in particular Moet Chandon. Their favourite game is akin to our game of, how many students can you fit into a mini, apart from they play – how many moths can you fit into a champagne flute. Now seeing as how we were drinking out of coffee beakers it would appear the answer is quite a lot.
Now we were joined by a mouse who’s favourite game was eating party moths so we left him to it and went to bed.
But not for long.
About 3 O’clock we all woke to a mighty lion’s roar, just the other side of the fence, he/she could not have been much more than 50 yards away. If any of us needed an enema that would have been it, apart from the fact that nobody was going to leave the safety of the tent with that racket going on. If you opened your mouth at the same time as the roar you could feel your own chest vibrate.
I tried to record the noise on my phone but all I got was Nicky’s and my heart beat.
In the morning before sunrise we sneaked back into the hut, only the dedicated cat hunters there now. One lady had been there all night, she knew the direction the lions were in but they were not visible yet. One would ‘speak’ and then another maybe 30 yards to his left would reply. Every 15 minutes like clockwork.
As the sun rose they became apparent as a female alone being talked to by a male who was with another female.
Now it is unbelievable that in the dimmest of light the only photo I could get was on my iPhone (other two photos from Vinnie)
Decamped we drove on Eastward across the Park coming across an elephant in the wild
and then a carcass of a giraffe
And to prove how able the vultures are
But then we were treated to a sideshow by the squirrels
Now I didn’t know this but squirrels are born with a bag to take home their shopping, weirdly it is between their legs
This is the Adam Ant Eagle
I know V likes his birds and regularly puts them in his posts so we stopped to take photos, and just as we were focusing long lenses on this, a leopard crossed the road right in front of the tree that this eagle inhabited. We both tried shooting from the hip so to speak but failed to get a good photo. Something for another day. Leopards are difficult to spot so just watching him cross the road was a bonus and a tick for Big Five number 3.
(I’d like to think the leopard is the blurred object just distant to the tree on this)
We drove further when all of a sudden we get a squawk on the walkie-talkie that Jac has seen a Rhino in the hedge. We backed up and eventually could see this
Now that was properly scary. He/she was only the other side of a bush and just ignoring anything in its way unless it wanted to eat it. We inched along the road until it burst through to drink from the roadside puddle.
Cue enema number 2
What were we going to do if he charged us, backwards was not possible with the Colonel behind us. That would lead only one option – to suddenly change my mind and reapply for my membership of believers in God.
BIG 5 number 4 tick! And how. I haven’t let go of that much adrenaline since my 1st black run. I nearly needed a tablet.
What could possibly improve on that?
A proper jungle love story, that’s what, and it wasn’t written by Disney or Elton.
The scene is the camp of Halali on the Eastern end of Etosha National Park. It too has a water hole but this is a longer walk up to a wall of rock that forms a natural amphitheatre overlooking the circular pool. And the other side of the pool is dense vegetation. The sun is low and as we 4 arrive a lonely rhino is slurping at the water’s edge
He is not quiet drinking and boy can he drink! We revel in his company while being eaten alive by mosquitos but none of us can miss a minute to go and apply the forgotten spray.
Eventually he has enough and leaves the bar only to be confronted by another big drinker at the exit
They have a stand off
and square up. (we all place bets, we know who will win)
A deer (Impala, James Impala) wanders in stage right as though nothing is happening, quite oblivious and unbelievable.
They grunt some more and then the loser backs away. Amazingly we all lose our money as the wrong guy walks. The new boy has it and he goes for a drink, and a drink again and then a bath
The crowd are ecstatic
and then his wife appears, whom he kisses!
and his child follows and bathes while they carry on kissing
then they all kiss (James this is a little sickly!)
With that, they go and we go.
Back at the camp it’s the Whitehead’s turn to cook and after our exciting day we fail miserably. Sorry Guys we’ll do better next time. You 2 make it look so easy.
Another day is over but I don’t think I shall ever be able to repeat it. It really is a once in a lifetime day and we were so lucky.
This is a honey badger that did its tour of the bins in the morning
It is funny how things change in the space of a week. Nicky is now quite comfortable with the idea of sleeping in a tent compared with the fear of that which she had prior to coming out here, so much so that this coming evening we actually have a room booked but Nicky is considering giving it up to camp one more night. That is a sea change of opinion!
3 of us enjoying an early morning coffee
and one of us has hair to deal with
and this is how the tent folds away
is it worth one last look at the water hole?
What a difference 12 hours makes…
Incidentally at the last water hole, which is frequented by lions, the other animals approach the water hole so tentatively. Even a Jackal would wander about back and forth, not reaching the water because a smell would spook it. We watched a jackal for about 30 minutes trying to pluck up courage trying to get just one sip in the complete absence of other animals, only because the lioness had been there before. And yet Rhinos are of absolutely no consequence to a Sprinkbok. Unless of course they wanted the same blade of grass in which case I should guess Bambi gets short shrift.
We left the park to begin our Journey South and home. We were to stay overnight in a campsite with a lodge in Tsumeb and as an example of how the tide had changed Nicky chose to forego the booked room in the lodge to camp along side the Colonel for one last night. This would turn the tide to 6 nights camping and 4 in lodges.
This site had an Olympic size pool and had been quiet the last time V&J stayed here. Tonight it had a massive touring party of Swiss campers in identical motorhomes.
We lounged in the pool, contemplating how amazingly quick Ian Thorpe must be to swim one length of 50m in less (sic) than 30 sec
Meanwhile Nicky pointed out the dark clouds and how it might be a good idea to put up the tent. How right she was. The down pour was biblical. We sat in the car as so much rain came down the grill around the pool floated away.
We spent the rest of the night in the bar!
All that was left now was for a longer drive to the lodge we had spent our 1st Namibian night.. The countryside made the journey worthwhile. What is normally arid now looked like this
(The brown column is a termite mound)
And so to the lodge we like so much, with a view that could be mistaken for Borrowdale in the Lake District to reflect on our time in this magnificent country.
So many preconceptions altered.
The landscape is not all the same, it is not all brown, the food is anything but average or simple, it had been fabulous.
It never rains – well it does when we come.
AND Camping on the roof of a big car is perfectly comfortable and manageable for 2 complete novices albeit with the reassurance of having an able couple like Vinnie and Jac around.
We covered 1700 miles
£160 on fuel
£517 0n accommodation
camp sites work out about £10-15 per night , rooms about £100
The safari £25 each
Our itinerary so painstakingly worked out by Vinnie and Jac it must have taken considerable time and worked out superbly, to show us
Driving in Soft sand
Crossing a vast desert
A coastline which strikes fear into mariners and a restaurant which would not be out of place in the West End costing only £55
A guided safari tour
And 3 days in National Park inhabited by so many animals which we actually managed to see. For all this we shall always be eternally grateful. I just don’t know how to thank you 2 enough.
A Dentist went to Namibia and shot a lion, but this time with a camera.
Footnote from Vince and Jac’s
Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post, I must say it was a pleasure to spend those 11 hectic days with James and Nicky, and it was extremely sad to say goodbye to them at Windhoek Airport. I really hope they enjoyed Namibia as much as we do (considering its the “wet” season here they were very lucky to see as much wildlife as they did).
I don’t usually put stuff about the performance of Colonel K on the blog, but I spent ages typing out the following to post on the forum of http://www.theoverlander.org only to find that the site has been out of action for the last few days, and when it came back up it would let me post this on the trip report section, so you guys can be bored by it instead!!!! At least there no photo’s.
“Hi guys, this is a quick update on the performance, reliability, and costs of the Leyland Daf, so far on our Africa trip
We have now been away 333 days, and are having an absolute ball out here. I won’t go into our actual trip as this is described in detail on our blog http://www.lorrywaydown.com and I know some of you are following us on the blog.
Anyway, we have now done 28,550km (about 17,850 miles) on this trip, with I guess about 30-40% on dirt, sand or gravel tracks. And although this is sometimes punishing for truck and occupants, the Leyland Daf has taken everything in its stride, with very few problems.
Ive broken down into various parts the performance of different elements of the truck and the living area, and I hope that you find it all of use and maybe just a little interesting.
The Cummins engine
This part of the truck never ceases to amaze me, its only 145hp, but with appropriate gearing (high and low range box), and a decent flat torque curve, it just pull up everything! We have been up some serious mountain passes, with very bad traction (gravel and sand), but as long as you have pre-selected low range in the transfer box, she will dig in and heave herself up. we have been down as low as 2nd gear in low range, up some extreme gradients, and though we are only doing 10km per hour, you know that it will get there.
Also with daytime temperatures over 50c sometimes and regularly over 40c, the temperature gauge always stays in the safe zone, (though when on a very long slow climb in stupid temperatures we do usually stop for a rest and let it cool down).The engine has always started first time everytime.I serviced the truck before we left the UK, then again in Senegal, and it had a complete service in Namibia (the absolute works, gearbox oils, diffs oils, transfer box etc), and we are booked into the same garage in Swakopmund, Namibia for another oil and filter change in a few days time.Incredibly we have only used about 3.5 litres to top up the engine oil between changes, in the 28,550 km that we have done, it just doesn’t use oil. This I find amazing given the huge pistons and compression ratio and the initial smoking on startup from cold. The engine is definitely more efficient now than when we first picked it up, and as I’ve mentioned before I’m convinced that the fitting of the snorkel has allowed the engine to breath more easily.
The snorkel also has the huge advantage of picking up clean air, as its out of the way of the dust that is kicked up from the front wheel, and also from other vehicles (overtaking, and coming the other way). I remove and clean the air filter about every 1,000 km if we are on gravel or sand tracks (almost all the time here in Southern Africa). I carry a spare air filter but have not needed to change it yet.
Apart from the viscous coupling cooling fan that decided to self destruct in Portugal, we have had no issues mechanically with the truck.
Fuelling wise we have had a couple of troubles, we had a small fuel line weak when we were in Morocco, which was “sort of sorted” then, but was not sorted properly, so the garage in Namibia fixed it (a great place). And we picked up some dirty fuel somewhere, probably in Mali or Burkina Faso, and this was again sorted with a good blast through, changing the fuel filter, and cleaning out the separator (that was full of crap). The guy in the garage also suggested raising the ticker speed to about 750rpm, this has made a huge difference, as when the engine is hot it was always feeling like it would cut out, and was very lumpy on tickover/idle, afterwards it is so much smoother. I now have a supply of fuel filters (a friend brought out for me), and I change these at least as often as the engine filter (about every 6,000 miles).
I know there is a huge debate on theoverlander.org about tyres on the Daf, but I honestly would not change our 12.00R20 Michelin XZL’s for anything else.
We have met so many people (some overlanders, some tourists with rental 4×4) that have suffered with their tyres, punctures, splits, etc, we have done some extensive off road and gravel tracks and have not had a puncture, yet!
Considering that we are 9.2 tonnes (we were forced to go to a weigh bridge by the Police in Namibia), and we are hitting some of these stones pretty hard, I have nothing but praise for these tyres. Yes they are bloody expensive to replace, and can be hard to source in the more remote areas, but they are very durable, and can withstand having the pressure dropped to less than half their recommended pressures.
The big draw back of these truck tyres is re-inflating the buggers! The on board air tanks will get them up (fairly quickly) to about 90psi (fine for the front), but inflating the rears from 90psi to 125psi with our trusty Viair compressor takes ages, and I hate doing it in the daytime heat of Africa! But that is the same with all truck tyres, and the fact that we can and have on many occasions deflated the XZL’s and run them safely in deep sand without damage to tyre and tube/valve and re inflated them is a testament to how good these tyres are on the Daf.
These brakes have really lapped up some punishment! It really is one element that I was worried about before we left home. Engine braking in these trucks is non existent on steep slopes (really steep slopes), and of course there is no exhaust brake, so its all down to the service brakes. They have not let us down yet, but on one particularly steep down hill on very very loose and broken up gravel, (we dropped over a 1,000 feet in a very short distance) the brakes got so hot that it transferred to the wheels and believe it or not our plastic wheel nut indicators melted on the nuts! We actually lost 5 indicators where they just melted and fell off (these are a very tight fit normally requiring grips to remove them). But the brakes were still working perfectly, the trick is to keep releasing them momentarily, then reapplying. But in a perfect world these trucks would benefit from an exhaust brake.
Chassis, and Fitments
Apart from quite a few bolts working their way loose, and re-tightening with thread lock applied, the chassis of the truck has been faultless. Our speedo packed up in Senegal, (the sender unit I think) but we record our mileage on the GPS anyway, and watching your speed is not really high up on the priority list while driving the Daf over here. All other electrics on the truck are working as they should.
When we first left Europe and crossed into North Africa, you may remember me saying we were doing about 12.5mpg, this was accurate and I honestly couldn’t see this improving much. Indeed I was expecting it to decline slightly as we got to more testing terrain and gradients.
Well I’m pleased to tell you that we have used 5,111.13 litres exactly, in exactly 28,550 kilometres (both since we left home in Kent, UK). This equates to:
15.7793 Miles Per Gallon or
17.9 litres per 100kilometers or
5.586 kilometers per litre Phew!
Bearing in mind this is the average, including the time spent in Europe, this can only be down to one thing, these trucks do not like being driven at 55mph (top speed) everywhere!!!
Since being in Africa, we have simply slowed down! Even on tarmac (if we find some), we now rarely go above 40mph, theres just no need to here and quite often any faster simply becomes dangerous (animals, road surface, etc). This has had a massive impact on our overall fuel consumption. Diesel here is now about 43p a litre, (thank you Mr Zuma for helping us with our exchange rate here in Namibia, and SouthAfrica) but it still helps if you are getting better fuel “economy”, every little helps!
Colonel K really is a great place to spend time in! See below…….
Things we love:
A super comfortable, thick heavy weight, full size mattress.
Massive amount of storage for clothes, kitchen stuff, and personal items.
Options for cooking, gas for cooking inside, diesel hob for cooking inside, gas for cooking outside, braii for cooking over wood or charcoal (most of the time here).
A decent full size shower with hot water (essential in North and West Africa), toilet (ditto), and wash hand basin (ditto)
With the hot water plumbed into the engine coolant we arrive with hot water that lasts for a couple of days
The 8no leisure batteries, solar panels and on-board generator mean that we never have to worry about electricity (and we can park in the shade of a tree during the days)
The extra insulation to the walls and roof make a huge difference in the African heat.Two fridges mean we can at least attempt to use fresh produce when available, and have cold drinks
The water filter, is truly invaluable, and means that we don’t have to buy bottled water at all.
The 300 litre water tank, its so nice not to worry about water here.
Things we would change:
The air conditioning unit is a waste of time and money here, as to use it we need to be plugged into a decent 240v or 220v hookup, and unlike Europe they don’t exist very often here, It works well but not out here!
I wouldn’t bring the Mountain bikes next time, they are a liability on the back and despite keeping them covered with a tarp, they are getting wrecked (plus we don’t use them very often and when we do, oh the punctures!).
I wouldn’t bring the jerry cans that are mounted on the roof (4no), they arnt needed and they rattle and make so much noise on the roof rack on the gravel roads, we can comfortably do 1,200km on a tank, and thats enough for most of Africa.
The floor covering! we still have carpet tiles fitted when we had a very old dog and spent several weeks in Scotland in the truck, and fitted these for warmth and comfort for the dog! The tiles are a nightmare with the sand, and was even worst in the mud in Mali, but we have persevered and will probably keep them until we get home.
The Seitz windows are rubbish! I know they are fitted to all caravans and motorhomes but I hate them! They scratch easily, the blinds are always needing to be dismantled and adjusted on their springs, and the insect mesh does not keep out mosquitos (they simply go over the top of the rollers). But they are light weight and replacement parts are plentiful.
We wouldn’t have so many LED lights in the ceiling (we have 22 fitted, inc the bathroom and over the kitchen work surface), and whilst these are switched on and off individually each one is cut into the bottom layer of insulation, so reducing (very slightly) thermal efficiency. We rarely have more that 3 on at a time.
I honestly believe these trucks work best when they are used each day or at least fairly often. When we first started using Colonel K (about 4 years ago) we had no end of small niggly issues, mostly minor electrical stuff, and I must admit I wondered if buying a two decade old military truck as the basis for an overland vehicle was a wise idea. Now I know it absolutely was.
I hope this info is of help to anyone thinking of, or are building a similar vehicle to Colonel K, and so far I would thoroughly recommend using the 4×4 Daf as a basis for any overland vehicle.
Cheers Vince and Jacqui”
Sorry about that and if you’ve managed to read all the above and aren’t from theoverlander.org and haven’t fallen asleep then I thank you