Disco up for Sale!

Disco_desert

As those of you who’ve been reading our blog will know we have had the most fantastic year but the time has now come to put our beloved disco up for sale.

We very much hope that whoever buys our wagon has as many good times and adventures as we have.

The full details are on ebay:-

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Land-Rover-Discovery-300TDI-Fully-OVERLAND-EXPEDITION-prepared-proven-/200973794366?pt=Automobiles_UK&hash=item2ecaf8bc3e

If anyone is interested and has any questions please get in touch

benandjen.adventures@gmail.com

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Installment 20: What an amazing year – a little trip round up

IMG_1587

Ben – So it’s one month since we arrived back home in Leamington, we’ve been talking about finishing the blog story off since sitting in Johannesburg airport.  What with catching up with friends and family and sorting the Disco out, and sorting the house out and job hunting and looking at a few possible wedding venues only now have we started.  These are of course all excuses, the main reason has been a lack of motivation, having come to the end of a most incredible year so so quickly, I don’t think we really want to consider having to round it up and finish it off.  

Anyway, when we last wrote we were with Cat & Sam still in Witsand watching whales off the coast. 

Whitsand_Whales

We spent a few more days with the guys working our way slowly east along the coast.  We dropped them in George where they took on a massive overnight bus journey all the way up to Pretoria.  After much umming and arghhhhh’ing we convinced ourselves it was no more expensive to keep our hired Toyota until we flew home than it was to get on a multitude of buses.  Highlights/most interesting parts of our last few weeks as we headed east then north:

 Writing CV’s in a Hippy Hostel on the coast of ‘the Garden Route’.

 Watching & photographing the antics of South African surfers off the coast at ‘J-Bay’ (Jeffery’s Bay)

J-Bay_Surfer1

Finding ‘real africa’ again in the Transkei.  It’s easy to forget in South Africa that this is Africa, posh cars & yachts & holiday homes a plenty.  In this ex-black homeland of the apartheid era you could be back in Zam’ or Zim’ or Bots.

TranskeiBeach

Re-visiting the mountains of the Drakensberg, and seeing them without the dreary grey cloud enveloping them.

Staying for a few days at Hotch Potch, the house of friends Tony & Susan, where we were told we could stay as long as we like for free, and enjoyed a roaring fire and some ‘nights in’ preparing for UK re-entry! 

From Hotch Potch we drove the 3 hours or so directly north to Johanesburg Airport, avoiding the need to stay in the city again, which worked well as we really couldn’t find much there we liked when we passed through a few months ago.  And there we were, sat in departures eating an expensive and unexciting pasta meal and reading a copy of SLR photography that I bought mainly to finish the loose Rand coins in my pocket.

——–

Time for some stats?  OK then….

– Total trip including the time in hired Toyota in SA: 352 days & 51,042 km

– Royal Leamington Spa to Cape town in the Disco:

– 324 days

– 258 nights in our tent (79%)

– 47,640 km

About 1021 driving hours 

– 5,377 Litres of diesel.

– 2 punctures

– 8000 photos (kept, plenty binned!) (when are you popping round for the slide show?)

– 15 African countries:  Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa (again!)

————

Jen – A question that we are often asked is “What was your favourite country?”, something we always struggle to answer as there were a few countries that stand out for different reasons so I’ve denoted these with a couple of stars

Europe

An unforgettable first night of bush camping in Romania with the huge freight trains thundering past every hour or so like the end of the world was coming.

The stress of blocking the Turkish toll barriers having not figured out the system and creating total chaos in amongst the irate truck drivers as we reversed out of the barriers.

The remarkable upbeat attitude of the Syrian families we met on the ferry who’d just left their homes with all their belongings. Their amazing positive outlook and jokey ways will never leave us . We think of Abdul and Mohammed a lot and so hope that life has got a little easier for them and their families.

 Egypt

‘Proper’ bush camping out in the stunning Western Desert with more stars in the sky than you can ever imagine

White_Desert_Camping

*Sudan*

A definite favourite due to the most friendly people who were so welcoming and nothing was ever too much trouble to show us just how fantastic their country was.

Jen&FriendsInWawa

Mohi spent the whole day showing us around Wawa and the Solub temple with breakfast, cups of tea and homemade cakes and didn’t want a thing from us in return.

MohyWawa

The man who invited us to the mosque to meet his wife and kids and wouldn’t let us leave until we’d had 3 Sudanese coffees and 3 homemade doughnuts.

Stunning wilderness desert more amazing bush campsites.

Sudan_U-turnToCamp

Ethiopia

The stark difference in landscape, scenery, culture and climate compared to anywhere else on our trip.

SimienTrek

The crazy rock hewn churches near Hawzien carved into the rocks, along tiny little ledges and sheer drops of a few hundred metres below

ClimbtoHawzienChurhes

The crisp landscape at 4000m of the Bale Mountains dotted with Ethiopian wolves

BaleMountainWolves

Kenya

The whole ‘adventure’ of driving from the Omo Valley into Kenya along Lake Turkana. Beautiful turquoise Lake Turkana and the village of Liongoloani packed with bright colourful tribes

The Masai Mara:-

Getting to the park in the first instance with all the mud the small tracky roads could throw at us

GettingintoMasai

Catching site of our first lions and spending all afternoon watching the blood soaked cheetahs recovering after their massive dinner with the meat sweats

IMG_8225

 Uganda

Doing ‘battle’ with the grade 5 rapids of the White Nile in a tandem kayak with 8 foot waves crashing towards us

Rwanda

The stunning hilly, terraced landscapes and sereneness of Lake Bunyoni

LakeBunyoni

 Tanzania

The mind blowing views from the Usumabarra mountains and chilling out enjoying them in all their glory from Mambo View

Mambo

The Sauti Za Busara Music festival on Tanzania

KhairaArby_Busara

*Malawi*

A country that is always talked about with regards to the stunning Lake Malawi but the main thing that stands out to us is again how friendly and welcoming the people were.

Relaxing along the shores of Lake Malawi near Chitenche and taking a slightly scary but amazing horse trek along the shores

KandeHorseRide

Mozambique

The lovely green, tea coverd hills around Gurue

GurueTeaPlantations

Catching up with Marcel, Marga, Tom and Fleur in their new home in Vilanculos

The amazing beaches around Barra Peninsula

Barra

South Africa

Catching glimpses of the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains between rainy clouds

*Lesotho*

The whole country is just stunning perched at a couple of thousand metres, with snow capped peaks and the fact that it feels like you’re thousands of miles from Africa makes it all the more special. Somewhere we must return to one day.

LesothoLandscape

Zimbabwe

The relaxing way to enjoy wildlife spotting in Hwange NP, sitting back and watching so many different animals visiting the waterholes

Hwange

The friendliness of the Zimbabweans, in particular the afternoon we spent visiting the studios of the Bulawayo Art Gallery

Zambia

Day and night drives in South Luangwa and spotting so many leopards

Leopard

Our little adventure from South to North Luangwa and of course the memorable bush shower complete with micro light fly past!

Cruiser&DiscoAdventure

Botswana

Back out camping in total wilderness of the Maghalihadi Salt pans with only the sounds of silence buzzing in our ears

SaltPans

*Namibia*

Etosha NP – enjoying a National Park that is so different in landscape to any other park we have visited with such vast numbers of animals

EtoshaSunset

Stunning desert wilderness in Koakoland, seeing desert elephants and a rather lovely proposal :o)

PalmwagDesert

sea kayaking out in Walvis Bay playing with the seals

CheekySeal_WalvisBay

more stunning landscapes in the red dunes around Soussusvlei

Sossousvlei

South Africa

sandstone mountain landscapes around the Cederberg

Cederberg

reaching Cape Aghulas and Cape Town

We_made_it!

watching tens of whales and their calves out in the bay from the beaches around Witsand

Ben – So there you have it, we’ll leave it there apart from possibly some extra photo’s as we sort through them all over the coming weeks, cheers for reading, Ben & Jen.

Posted in S Africa & Lesotho | 6 Comments

Instalment 19 – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED !! Namibia down to the Capes!

Ben – WE MADE IT!!!  Last week we got to Africa’s southernmost tip, Cape Aghulas

Aghulas Dance

Aghulas Danc

Then west along the coast a bit to Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope (mission triply complete).

At Good Hope there was a sign proclaiming “LONDON 9623km” and pointing roughly north was, it had taken us roughly 48,000km and 325 days, we must have taken a wrong turn!

I say “roughly” because I can’t lay my hands on my trusty trip-log note-book at the moment, its locked in the Disco in a shipping container somewhere between Cape Town and Felixstowe.  Yep she’s already been sorted washed and packed on her way, very sad indeed.  She does have company though, in a big container with Sam and Cat’s Landcruiser (you may remember them from our fabulous week in Zambia heading South to North Luangwa).

Sam&Cat_Cruiser

Sam&Cat_Cruiser

Sharing the shipping saves cash, but Sam and Cat need to be home a little sooner than us, hence we decided to spend our last 3 weeks without the Disco.  She deserves a rest anyway after doing such a fantastic and basically trouble free job of getting us here.

The 4 of us have swapped the trusty 4×4’s for a shared hired Toyota Etios for a few day -what a beast!

Monday was Disco and ‘Cruiser loading day at the port, and it was preceded by a very melancholy few days of packing and re-packing, trying to re-adjust to the needs of our 3 weeks “backpacking”, we have to make our way slowly from Cape Town up to Jo’berg to fly home on Sept 4th.  Loading was quick and pretty well controlled, paperwork took a little longer, but seemed painless.  Persuading a South African bank to give us our money to pay took much longer, but we eventually succeeded, and hopefully we’ll see our wagon’s in about 4 weeks time in the UK, we’ll keep you posted.

In Cape Town we stayed at Cape Town Backpackers, Jen ran in to sort things out and owner Andy (a fine Englishman), said we could have a well-discounted room when he learned we’d driven down in a Land Rover.  When he walked outside he did say “I thought was a proper Landy, not a bl**dy Disco” (he has a lovely 110 Defender), but I think he was jesting ‘cos the price stayed the same and he was a bl**dy nice and helpful guy.

We celebrated the end of our journey many times it seemed, but twice in Cape Town.  On Saturday night we went on the hunt for some live music with Sam and Cat.  The semi-Metal-grunge-thing we found in Zula Bar to start with didn’t float our boat, but a more touristy/African Marima Trio in Mama Africa’s were good enough to see us out late, and leave us with fuzzy heads in the morning.  On Monday night we also met up with Karen and Marcello, the British/South African couple we met in Malawi in their Defender doing the same journey on their way to try a new life in Cape Town.  It was great to catch up with them, and “local” (well 6 or 7 years ago anyway) Marcello found us a brilliant Cape-Malay restaurant in the back streets of Bo Kaap where the large Malaysian community of old produce this renowned South-African take on their cuisine, ummmmmm!!!!

Being around Cape Town can be like being back in Europe already.  It’s a stunning city, the centre is modern, the bay/harbour full of ships and fancy yachts and Table mountain backdrops the lot dramatically.  It doesn’t take long to find some poorer grubbier area’s of course.

Down the coast (east) we visited Hermanus on our way in and out the city.  Hermanus is famed for sightings of Southern Right Whale groups just off sure, and the bay is indeed full of them, but I only saw them at a distance, (Jen saw mother and calf at very close quarters as she walked back to our hostel from the supermarket, they followed her just off shore for ages apparently, lucky Jen!).  To try and get a better look at these magnificent creatures the 4 of us are currently in Witsand further East still, past Cape L’Aghulas again (where the Atlantic ocean turns back into the Indian Ocean), and overlooking Cape Infanta where, (in the words of Lorraine the guest house owner) the “Whales are busy calving”.  And ineed the bay is full of whales.  Just off shore you can pick out maybe 5 or 6 groups of maybe 3 or 4 individuals at busy times as they bob up to the surface, occasionally slapping there tales in the water, or blowing great plumes of watery whale breath into the sky, or more occasionally breaching (kind of jumping clear of the surface), but they are still some way out.  I’m still hoping for a closer look and keeping a beady eye on the horizon as I sit in the lounge of our incredible “apartment” overlooking the bay!!  Incredibly when Jen rang Barry’s Holiday Accommodation and spoke to lovely Lorraine asking if they had dorm beds available she said no, but let the 4 of us have this amazing place for more-or-less the same cost as 4 dorm beds, we decided to stay an extra night!  It is cold here now though, and the wind and rain have been on and off all day, quite dramatic.  When you tire of watching whale out the front window……. you can watch Cape-Weavers fighting and building their nests out the back !!

Before the capes our journey through North-West South-Africa took as through Namaqua National Park (wine area), and briefly out to the coast and Doring Bay (wine area) before heading through the Cederberg Mountains and Brede valley (wine areas) to south coast (wine area).  We’ve drunk a lot of wine.

I did have half a plan to do a quick review of the wines drunk here, but they are all a hazy memory already I’m afraid.  We did have a lovely bottle of Lutzville Sav’ blanc in Doring Bay, a fine glass (and only about 4 pounds a bottle), served with a mighty-fine Hake, Calamari and curried sweet potato dish at the little Cabin restaurant.  Here we also splashed out for a room for the first time in 50 nights, our roof-tent is like home now, even though it started getting pretty cold through Namibia.

In the Cederberg we camped at Driehook farm, and had to sample their own Sav’ Blanc.  We did a back to back test here with the Lutzville, Jen proclaimed that the DrieHook “smells more than the Lutzville” and indeed it does, a finer fruitier fresher drop, but at about 7 pounds a bottle we’d recommend the Lutzville as better bang for your buck. The following day we thought we’d head out and stretch our legs a bit.  The lady at Driehook scribbled us a map and we headed off on a 6 hour hike to and from the “arch”, a rock formation high above the farm.  All started well, but the map combined with a path marked by “piles of rock” in a landscape of rock pile didn’t work well, we walked all day and never saw the arch.  The landscape all around is beautiful though, so no harm done.

The stunning landscape carried on as we headed south up and over the Cederberg range to Ceres, and onwards to the Brede valley.  After failing to find anywhere to camp-up near Robertson as planned, we ended up in a lovely campsite near the river in Bonnievale  We were yet again the only people in the camp, like I said, its got cold recently.  As we relaxed and started to prep some food the campsite owners turned up walking their dogs, and we had a lovely chat before they headed off, a dog short.  It seems one of the 3 always goes missing but they always pop back a couple of hours later in the bakie (south African pick-up) to collect them.  When the bakie returned we were presented with a lovely bottle of Bonnievale red to congratulate us on managing to get there from the UK by road.  Somehow we’ve managed not to open that one though, and its in the Disco on its way home.  We’ll let you know how it was when we get there too!!

I didn’t mention the Namaqua National park did I?  This was our first stop in South Africa this time, (coincidently Namaqua dry white is our top recommended boxed wine from the whole trip, and at about 4 pound 50 pence for 3 litres, you really cant go wrong!). We lucked out in Namaqua, its famous for its fields of wild flowers in the early SA spring, and we arrived 2 days after the first had opened, quite a site.

Namaqua_Orange

Namaqua_Orange

Jen: Before reaching South Africa and after our last blog instalment we travelled south for 2 weeks down from Windhoek, Namibia. As you know we had an enforced loop to and from Windhoek to collect an important item of jewellery! After some deliberation we decided we’d head South towards Sossousvlei before taking the trip back up to Nambias capital.

First stop was a star gazing farm where we camped up on a very blustery hill but one with stunning views in all directions down onto the Naukluft Mountains.  We spent a chilly evening ing a huge telescope to see the night sky. Ben and I have spent many nights on our trip gazing up at the stars but struggled to figure out much of what we’re looking at. Our host took us through various constellations (slightly bemused that he need confirm where the Southern Cross was), nebula, the moon and the finale was looking at Saturn which was just mind blowing. The facts and figures he was going through were somewhat bewildering with the vastness of it all, Ben with his engineering mind got the gist of it all slightly better than me. All in all it had been a great introduction to the Southern night sky.

We then headed South slightly to the Namib Naukluft park where we camped up next to a very cold river with lots of birds chirping and tweeting all around us. We took a “beginners hike” along the Olive Trail. We hiked up the side of the mountain and could see the deserty, red mountains all around, to me most similar to the desert areas of the West coast of America. After climbing over the top of the mountain we dropped back down the other side into the bottom of the dry river bed, a huge and very deep canyon that had cut through the landscape. The rocks were every colour imaginable and we did think it would be good to know a little more about the geology of this landcape. After scrambling over lots of huge rocks in the bottom of the river bed we came to a section that looked amazing, layers of pinky white rocks towering over us in a particularly narrow canyon. The pool of water in the bottom reflected all the shapes and colours making it all the more stunning. After getting all quite excited about how amazing it looked we then realised this was the part of the walk our guidebook had mentioned where the use of chains is required. The guidebook had explained “even the most feeble of hikers will have no issue” – no worries then…. I was sent over first so Ben could take some nice piccies 

Oh_S$%^

Oh_S$%^

The start was straight forwards and I made good progress until ¾ of the way over. Now it seems only right at this point to mention that the wall of rocks was pretty much vertical, we were about 3 metres above the pool of rocky water below but most importantly we have been in Africa a long time now and are therefore very used to things not always being maintained, not secured properly, gaping holes where you’d least expect them etc etc. So having made it ¾ of the way along it was time to really put my faith in the African chains that were randomly pegged (I hoped) along the rock face and had a lot more give in them than I’d of liked. At this point I lost it slightly and could not bring myself to lower myself down a metre or so taking a leap of faith in the African chain as I went. After Ben suggesting lots of different options and me giving myself several good talkings to Ben decided he’d come across past me and try and figure out the best route as I’m precariously balanced on a small ledge, holding on to the chain I’m not so keen on.

He again made good progress up to the tricky bit and then took a slight leap of fatih in the chains to lower himself down towards the water, despite saying all the right things to boost my confidence I could see the look on his face quite clearly when the chain gave away a bit more than he’d of liked and I was still no further forwards! After more “get on with it Boller, get over it and just get yourself down there” type talkings to myself I decided I had to do just that… I took up the chain, lowered myself down and it’s that point the chain slackened off far more than I’d of like and I fell a metre or so banging my elbow, fortunately the chain held up in a non African way and I held on so no major damage was done. It took me quite some time for my legs to stop trembling but I was very relieved to be off the rock face and looking back on the days hike the chains kind of made the whole walk worthwhile.

From the Naukluft Park we continued down towards Sossousvlei which is home to the huge red dunes that Namibia is so famous for. We had a day or so waiting around to get into the park (things were still busy in Namibia’s main tourist sites due now to the European school holidays). We really wanted to camp inside the park as it gives you extra time at sunrise and sunset to see all the crazy colours of the dunes compared to staying outside the park. The wait was most definitely worth it. Ben and I had a fantastic evening watching the sun set over the famous Dune 45 (we’d been warned to avoid it for sunrise seeing as hoards of people, in particular the overland buses) descend on it. It was certainly hard going as we climbed up and the wind was whipping up the sand but having battled to the top we pretty much had the place to ourselves and from there you could see the beautiful shapes and shadows of the dunes in the distance.

DuneWalk

DuneWalk

The following morning we were up before sunrise, queuing at the gate with a few other cars to get over to Sossousvlei pan ready to see the sun come up. We reached the end of the tar road as it was getting light and without really thinking about it bounced the car on to the 4×4 part, the sand was much much softer than I expected, Ben kept the motor running and went down the gears, neither of us saying anything to the other but both silently praying we’d not got bogged down.  Fortunately with the trusty disco and some skilled driving from Ben all was good and we were the second car to reach the car park. We climbed up the dunes, I felt slightly guilty as there were no other footprints where I was walking and I felt I was damaging them in some way. The sun was now hitting some of the dunes around us and the colours changing every few minutes. At the top of the dune we then caught glimpse of the white pan at the bottom of the red mountains of dunes, totally in shade at this point. As we struggled on over the dune the sun started to hit the pan and the colours all changed yet again. It would have been lovely to spend quite a few days enjoying the dunes but unfortunately we had to get on, and journey back towards Windhoek.

SossousvleiSunrise_1

SossousvleiSunrise_1

We made it to Windhoek late afternoon and rushed off to see Benita the lovely owner of the jewellery store. The ring was stunning, slightly different to what we were both expecting but simple and beautiful with a gorgeous turquoisey Namibian stone – just perfect for me. I wore it for a day or so around Windhoek but then reluctantly decided it was best to tuck it up safely in Rodney (code name for the safe on our disco). Overland dirt, grime and generally bashing it around didn’t seem the best start of it’s life so I’m very much looking forward to unpacking it when we get the disco safely back to the UK.

We took a great trip out to Luderitz, a small German town on the windswept Atlantic coast, sandwiched between the icy ocean and dusty desert. As you drive out West towards the town you drive through hundreds of kilometres of spectacular desert scenery. Unfortunately there was no chance of any bush camping around here as the whole area is full of diamonds and therefore nobody is allowed off either side of the main road. Ludertiz is full of some beautiful colonial buildings and the location sandwiched next to the desert and ocean was very impressive. We took a drive out to the Luderitz peninsula, to call it windswept is an understatement but it gave us a fantastic view back of the town and we also got to have our first glimpse of African penguins. Most importantly for me we’d been recommend a very nice coffee shop which supplied a huge and delicious slice of Red Velvet Chocolate cake.

Our final stop as we left Ludertiz was Kolmanshop, an old diamond mining town in the middle of the desert. With bigger and better diamonds being found elsewhere the population all moved on in search of increased wealth leaving all the houses, hospital, school and shops to be engulfed by the desert. The town is now open to visitors and there are lots of old items still left in the houses and some rooms are literally full of sand dunes inside. It made for a fascinating stop and the opportunity to try and take some interesting photos.

Kolmanshop_GhostTown

Kolmanshop_GhostTown

Our final stop off in Namibia was Fish River Canyon and Ais Ais hot springs. The Canyon is very impressive and again reminded me of the West coast of the US, being quite similar to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately you cannot enter the canyon without committing to a 5 day hike along the length of it… far too much for me and Ben so we made do with seeing it from a couple of viewing points and looking down on the vast cutting through the landscape.

Ben – So our Final couple of weeks in Namibia and the drive down to Cape Town are done.  It’s incredible to think we’ve been all that way and on the road for best part of a year now.  We have a few weeks ahead to enjoy South Africa, and so far so good, then we’ll be heading back home.  We are both really looking forward to seeing friends and family, maybe see you soon?

Ben and Jen.

Posted in Botswana & Namibia, S Africa & Lesotho | 14 Comments

Instalment 18 – Namibia part 1 (first 3 weeks!)

Ben – Sooooo….  We crossed into Namibia at Muhembo, a border post that drops you immediately into a national park and onto one of Namibia’s excellent gravel roads.  We’d been in the country no more than 2 minutes when from nowhere a fairly sizable elephant seemed to “jump out” from behind a small bush.  I braked hard, very hard, raising a big cloud of dust.  I remember a sharp intake of breath as I feared we might “nudge” the big-fella, but he was running!  Well he was to start with, then once we’d stopped, so did he, thinking for a moment “you nearly ran me over you b*****d”, then turning and doing the Big-Ear flap and snorting a bit, we were already going backwards!  The ele’ calmed, gathered his thoughts, then wandered back into the bush.  It was an incredible intro to the country, and a sign of the great animal viewing to come.  I slowed down.

My calendar tells me 3 weeks have passed since then, incredible, it has flown by, Namibia really is exceeding expectations, and they were very high indeed due to so many people telling us how incredible it is.  It’s a country the 4 times the size of the UK with just over 2 million inhabitants, it ain’t busy!  It is full of wildlife and desserts and mountains and the occasional German-colonial town interspersed with some truly stunning tribal outfits.

I’ll warn you now, this is going to be a long long update, you might want to make a cup of tea and raid the biscuit tin (bourbons of course) if your gonna carry-on.

From the border we took a few days to drive west to Etosha National Park (NP), we had very high expectations from Etosha as we’ve met so many people with incredible story’s from the place.  It’s a big park, over 200km wide and nearly 100km tall, and the action is centred around a large salt pan that covers about a fifth of it.  We barrelled up to the office at one of the main entry points, Namatoni:  “We’d like to camp here tonight, then in the 2nd camp Halali tomorrow, then at the 3rd, Okaukuejo the day after please”.  “Sorry we’re fully booked” came the reply!  Fully booked is something we’ve not encountered in 10 months on the road, in fact having anyone else in the camp site is unusual, we were perplexed, then we learned – it’s the South African school holidays for the next few weeks, and it seems that SA empties into Namibia during this time. The place is over-run with Toyota’s of varying types sporting roof tents like ours and all the camping gear you can possibly imagine, including microwaves and satellite TVs.  Fiombee, the Namibia Wildlife official behind the desk started by being as unhelpful as everyone had told us Namibian Wildlife officials would be, but when we told her we’d driven all the way from the UK over 10 months “just to see the worders of Etosha NP” she mellowed, made some phone calls, argued with some people down the phone then ‘found us’ some camping space in each of the camps but all bumped by a day into the future.  Thank you Fiombee.  We promised not to use all the hot water in the showers or use any electricity and said we’d be back the next day, heading out to posh Onguma camp site outside the park to wait for the night.

Jen: Onguma was a luxurious lodge who let grubby overlanders like us use their facilities for about a tenner – fantastic! We really enjoyed sitting on some huge comfy sofas with a beer, overlooking a little waterhole and taking in some African Geographic magazines, although I found watching the goings on of the other well to do guests as entertaining…

Etosha Day 1 – Park gates opened at sunrise, 6:28 I think it was, we were ready and waiting, Fiombee and friends looked surprised we were so keen, but booked us in, we headed straight off on a loop north of Namatoni.  If we hadn’t found our new love of the birdlife we might have been slightly disappointed on this first morning, but sighting Crimson Breasted Shrike, Lillac Breasted Roller, Khorhans, Eagles and much more kept us more than happy.

Jen: We’ve also now upgraded our bird book as there were a few too many that were unable to identify!

Remember the Kori Bustard from the last post? the worlds heaviest flying bird that we spotted in Botswana and thought we were so clever for spotting, well

A) We now only refer to them as “Cori Bedfords”, a guy I vaguely remember as swimming champion from school (other nick names we did have for the Bustard bird were less kind) and

B) They are common as muck in Etosha, we felt a little disappointed!

Highlight of the morning was a kill!  We stopped, engine-off, to watch a lovely Lilac-Roller, who went-on to swoop into the bush beside us, catch a big-bug of some kind, then land in the road right in-front of us and bash-the-bug on the road until it stopped struggling and could be a tasty brekkie.

AfricanRedEyedBulbul_Etosha

AfricanRedEyedBulbul_Etosha

In the afternoon we drove a short loop east of Namatoni.  This time we narrowly missed the kill.  The Kudu (a really beautiful and I can report tasty with peppercorn sauce antelope) was already dead.  The lion who had killed it was resting in the bushes near-by and about 100 meters from us, preparing to gorge himself on the beast.  Later his friend turned up and together they picked up the carcass and carried it into the shade, just out of our sight (so I’m unsure if they had a peppercorn sauce or not).  We returned to the camp.  The 3 main camps in Etosha have waterholes with flood lights where you can sit all day and night if you like.  I headed down there, Jen headed to get a couple of beers for sundown.  I couldn’t believe my eyes as I walked up to the waterhole, a huge White Rhino was stood drinking right in front of the viewing platform, I urged Jen to arrive quickly, and struggled to get the camera out without disturbing Rhino and spectators.

Jen  – it was quite tricky trying to run silently along the old rickety boardwalk (complete with beers in my hand) so as not to disturb the fellow wildlife spotters who would have looked at me in utter disgust when I scared off everything worth looking at. As I arrived he was just wandering off but I managed to sneak a glimpse.

My photos were poor, but it was my first Rhino ever, and on Etosha day 1, just brilliant.

Etosha Day 2 – At sunrise we were about the first car out of the camp gate, heading straight back to the location of the Lion spot yesterday, on the way we stopped to watch a big group of Jackals and Hyenas for a short while.  At the Lion spot from yesterday there was nothing so we headed back to the Jackals and Hyena’s.  From this direction we could see what we’d missed on the way out, the reason that all the Jackals and Hyenas were loitering like naughty school boys.  Another huge male lion was finishing his breakfast, we were close enough this time to hear him crunching though the bones, we were first on the seen and sat engine-off in wonderment at our Etosha luck.  As some other vehicles passed and stopped breakie was done, the cat stood up (covered in breakie blood) and took no more than a stride before the Jackals were fighting over the left-overs with Hyenas trying to muscle in too.  All this before 7am, and our own breakfast, we had muesli and Yogurt, not Kudu.

LionsBreakfast_Etosha

LionsBreakfast_Etosha

A couple of hours later we reached a spot overlooking the salt-pan, and were getting a bit presumptions.  I commented that the stunning landscape just needed a big-cat striding across it to be perfect.  5 mins later as we left, there it was!  It wandered directly between us and some south Africans coming the other way, they told us they’d followed it down the road for 3km.  It was funny that despite the camps being rammed full, during the day we didn’t see too many other cars,  I guess because the park is 100 x 200km.

Etosha Day 3 – In the morning we saw no cats, and fewer birds, but some huge herd of Zebra and Springbok and Wilderbeast and our favorite antelope, the Oryx (or Gemsbok).

WilderbeestSpat_Etosha

The second half of the day just got more and more incredible…. As the sun started to drop we were at the waterhole with 3 or 4 other vehicles watching 3 large elephants taking a very photogenic and smelly mud-bath.  As we watched Jen was scouring the horizon for other action.  Suddenly Jen shouts  “a lion, lion over there”, she leans out of the window toward the car close(ish) by, “Hello, HELLO, theres a lion over there, just there, look!!!” .  I’m not sure this strictly adhered to game-viewing etiquette, but the cars occupants soon looked very happy indeed.  This time a large female lion wandered over to the waterhole and started to drink, this sparked an interesting encounter.  The closest ele’ adopted a stance a bit like the one one I almost ran-over, it said “This is our water buddy, p*** off”.  The Lion certainly didn’t argue to much, but she did saunter only about 20 meters before lying down with her back to the trunk-bearers, an action that said “Alright big-chap, your water for now, but I’m having ago later”, and indeed she did.

Who'sBoss?_Etosha

Who’sBoss?_Etosha

We headed back to the camp for sun-down, and oh-my-life, what a sight greeted us.  There must have been 20 or 30 elephants, big small and tiny, playing in the camp-site water hole.  Some were swimming, snorting water all over the place and seemingly doing backflips, some were drinking, some feeding and trumpeting, and some having dust baths.  The dipping sun, the dust in the air, the noise and the sheer number of ele’s made for a fantastic atmosphere, and some lovely pictures, some of my favs of the trip.

ElephantsOkakeujo_Etosha

ElephantsOkakeujo_Etosha

Later in the evening, maybe 8pm, we took our chairs and some beers back to the waterhole and sat with a few hardcore animal watchers to see what turned up (most people were busy in the camp with BBQ and chit-chat).  At first we had a solitary Giraffe for company, and time ticked by.  By 10pm we were thinking we’d had our luck for the day and maybe nothing else was gonna show, but then…..   2 White Rhino, then 2 more, then a fifth.  We watched for ages as they drank, quite cautiously.   I thought Rhinos would be fearless and majestic, a bit like elephants, but it seems not, they’re quite stocky and a bit more like the Mitchell brothers out of Eastenders!

FloodlitRhinos_Etosha

FloodlitRhinos_Etosha

Etosha Day 4 – We took our morning tea back to the camp waterhole, but nothing much was going on, so we packed up quickly and headed north along the pan for our cereal and yoghurt.  It was pretty but not much action so we headed back to the Ele’ and Lion scene from yesterday, and the place was buzzing.  Zebra, Oryx, Ostrich, Giraffe and Springbok.  The Springbok were going a bit crazy doing this weird bouncing thing they do (as their names suggests I guess).  With all 4 legs rigid they bounce forward, going high in the air with heads low to the ground, its quite amazing.

We left the park a bit dazed by our time there, just a great place (like everyone had told us).  We headed to Kamanjab and a camp called Oppi-Koppi that we’d heard was “overlanders friendly”, and our Etosha days just got better still.  When we arrived I was asked “I see your number plate, have you come overland from Europe?  If so you can camp here for free for as long as you like and the wifi is free too, all we ask is that you buy a drink at the bar and that we can take a photo of you and your car to put in our Overlander book over here….”.  That is friendly.  As if that wasn’t enough, we camped up and headed back to the bar to find the owner Vittel sat watching the British Grand Prix on the satellite TV, I ordered a drink and joined him immediately, (Better still Sebastian Vettel didn’t finish and Hamilton was on a late recovering charge chasing Alonso to a very exciting finish).  In the evening we sat with another Dutch overland couple Sonja & Jerone and enjoyed a delicious zebra steak with roast potatoes, and more than a couple glasses of wine.  (I must point out though that this is definitely an arduous and challenging overland trip, and in no way a fantastic year long holiday, absolutely not!)

On leaving Oppi-Koppi we were directed by Vittel to his butcher (Jen: the clue was probably in the name – Impala Butchery) at the end of the road where we decided the Giraffe Steak was too big (I think it was neck steak, not joking!), Oryx is too lovely to eat, so we took some Eland (another not quite so lovely Antelope) steaks and the biggest pork chops you’ve ever seen.  The Eland was the most succulent meat I think I’ve ever eaten, the chops were incredibly tasty, but the fat on them had huge flames lapping out of our Cobb BBQ, and sent a massive fire-ball into the air when I took the lid off.

Having stocked-up we headed North (wrong way again I know) to the remote north, Kaokoland and Damaraland, first stopping at the lovely community run “Hippo Pools” camp site in Ruacana (no hippos seen), then onto Epupa.  Epupa had been in our minds since Klaus (the fantastic German guy we met on his 4th trans-africa trip) told us all about it back in Egypt/Sudan.  The drive up there was great, back into semi-desert.  The roads are fantastic, good gravel that you can rattle along pretty quickly, well maintained I think for the SA holiday makers.  The scenery was as good as we’d been told, the kind of harsh-barren but beautiful place that no photo does any justice.  The falls were impressive too, not Victoria falls obviously, but pretty.  We spent a day lazing there.

EpupaSpray

EpupaSpray

The Himba tribe for which the area is so well know are a real reminder you are in Africa, in most places recently people are dressed in T-shirts and jeans, but the Himba (Ladies particularly) with there bare-breast, skin painted with a butter-ochre mix, clay braided hair, and traditional skirts and jewellery are striking.  I wanted so much to take some pictures, but after feeling like I’d intruded so much doing so back in Ethiopia’s Omo valley, I left the camera in the bag and just enjoyed being there.  Here’s a picture nicked off t’interweb

himba-woman-namibia

himba-woman-namibia

From Epupa south we’d been asking people about options and kind of decided that we’d “do” the Van Zyl pass out to the west.  In classic travellers tales style one guy we met had told us it was “a piece of  cake, the road out there is more difficult”, another had said “Blimey, I did that a few years ago and it ranged from tricky, to dangerous, to very dangerous”, written accounts had it as the “Most difficult pass in Namibia, but doable”, we met people who were heading that way, we decided to give it a go.

The first guy was right in that the road out there, Etengwa to Otjitanda, is pretty lumpy, we made it to the Van Zyl junction then both decided the pass was an adventure we didn’t need, so turned left to Etanga.  It seems in doing so we’ve missed a special place in the north-west, but as is typical of this trip, it meant we had a fantastic encounter that wouldn’t have come our way otherwise.  We Bush-Camped up next to the track, and got dinner going.  As we did a young Hibma lad wandered past, then up to us, he was on his way from school to his home in the village, and he was such a fantastic boy.  He was fascinated by our vegetables, really amused by our Cobb-Oven (his English brilliant) “in our culture we make real fire”.  We asked if he wanted to stay for food, he said yes.  Watching him battle politely with a knife and fork for a while was fun before Jen said, “you can use your hands instead if you like” , he looked much happier polishing off his roasted veg like that.  We talked about his life, our trip and had a Himba language lesson before he said thanks and carried on home to his village which we could just hear in the distance.  We hoped he wasn’t gonna return with a whole village of people asking for dinner, and he didn’t.  In the morning we got up with the sun and were away by 6, no hassle at all.

Although we’d missed the Van Zyl pass, we did stay out in some pretty remote areas, over the next few days we worked our way to Purros (home of the desert elephant), and along the Skelton Coast south to the western entrance of the Palmwag concession  (as recommended by 4 South African “Butlers” we met in Purros.  In 2 days we saw no locals at all, and only 3 other 4x4s, Namibians on an adventure together, it was bliss.  The road was rocky and sandy buy no problem.  The section south of Purros follows the river bed for 30km dipping in and out of the river continuously.

Jen: The drive was absolutely stunning, in the middle of the desert, the very dry rocky riverbed and beyond either side but we were driving through lots of water with lush greenery either side of the water. Clearly this attracted lots of different wildlife and a huge number of different birds. I remember saying to Ben “this is going to be one of those days of the trip that you definitely don’t forget…. little did I know what was to follow later….”

Given that Purros sits in Desert sand dunes this is astonishing, the only water for miles draws in all the wildlife although we didn’t see any desert elephant there unfortunately. However, the previous day we’d taken a walk of only a few km from the Purros community camp along the dry river-bed to watch the sun set from the top of a big sand-dune.  On the way we’d wandered past 2 elegant desert giraffe feeding on the unpleasant spikey foliage they had on offer.  On the way back past them I was trying to get some nice photos, edging as close as I could before they shuffled away.  As I turned to catch up with Jen I saw a stunning desert elephant feed only about 100m away!  From a car they look powerful, on foot they look a bit terrifying, but so exciting.  The longer legs and bigger feet of the desert elephant clearly evident, I took a few pictures and we watched for a while before taking the longer route back to camp!

DesertElephant_Purros

DesertElephant_Purros

Between Purros and Palmwag is prime bush-camp territory, like I said we saw no one out there, and the landscape is ever changing and vast.  We camped up, gathered some wood (in the dry river beds up-rooted thus dead trees and bushes are aplenty) and got a fire going.  Out of meat by now Jen knocked up a tasty veggie-chilli.  As it cooked on the fire and we enjoyed a cold Windhoek beer, I took my chance to ask if Jen might like to get married when we get home, being at least a day from civilisation she had to say she would, so that was nice.  We’re now in the capital Windhoek sorting out an engagement ring !!

Jen: Ben rather took me by surprise in asking me to marry him, what a perfect end to a extraordinary day and I’d like to make a point that me saying yes had nothing to do with being a days drive from any civilisation :o)

PerfectBushcamp_Amspoort

PerfectBushcamp_Amspoort

Between then and now we’ve been out to see the ancient cave paintings at Twyfelfontein and the Brandberg (white lady) and the impressive rock formations at Spitzkoppe.  We’ve also been down to Swakopmund, the adrenaline capital of Namibia wedged between desert dunes and Atlantic ocean.  Whilst Toby and Sophie a British doctor duo from the UK that we met there spent a day Kayaking, Kite surfing and skydiving, we made do with just a morning Kayak, it was fascinating.  The kayaking itself was easy, in a closed bay area so no big waves, but it is made so special by the seal colony we visited, they are everywhere!  Hundreds/thousands on the beach, and the same in the water swimming all around you, under you boat, splashing you, nibbling your paddle if you leave it stationary for too long, and nibbling your jacket too if given chance (as Jen found out).  Some actually swim up belly out so you can rub it.  Jeanne who runs the trips and her company EcoMarine is fantastic too, loads of enthusiasm and info, and after 16 years doing it too, (you wouldn’t tire of that I don’t think).

LotsofSeals_WalvisBay

LotsofSeals_WalvisBay

Our morning on the water was in brilliant sunshine, which was really lucky, most of the rest of our time there was shrouded in the Atlantic fog for which Swakopmond and the Namib desert are renowned.  We did spend a few days there and had a lovely night out celebrating the engagement with Toby and Sophie, who were celebrating there 2nd wedding anniversary too.

So now we’re in Windhoek, only about half way through our Namib adventure, its been brilliant so far, we hope part 2 will be as good, it’s a lot to ask.

Cheers for now

Ben

Posted in Botswana & Namibia | 25 Comments

Installment 17 – Getting twitchy from Zam to Bots

Jen – In our last update we left you on the Zambia side of Vic Falls in Livingstone. Our main goal was to get the Disco a little Western style TLC. African TLC generally makes for a very unhappy Ben when various things are found not tightened, not working or generally done in a way that causes future problems. Foleys is an English Landrover overland company with a workshop in Zambia so it was great to opportunity to get a couple of things sorted.  The only problem was that Nick (the main man there) was stacked up and we would have to wait a week to get our slot – it looked like Ben and I would have to do what we’re not very good at and sit and chill out for a week. As it turned out it was a lot easier than we thought and we had a very nice week relaxing and were also able to revisit Vic Falls.

Vic Falls was just as impressive from the Zambia side as it had been on Zimbabwe side.  Crossing “Knifes Edge” bridge we got absolutely soaked through. It was funny that the other side was practically deserted, all the tourists who’d flown half way round the world to see one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World obviously didn’t want to see it too closely as it involved getting so wet

Ben – As we had time to kill I treated myself (well you have to when life is this hard) to a microlight flight over the falls, Jen could not be persuaded!  Since my foray into the world of Hand gliding back at Uni (a couple of years ago now) I’ve always fancied a go in one, and what a place to try it.  It was incredible.  You feel barely strapped on at all, and with the wind literally in your face, a views for miles in all directions, I don’t think you can get a better perspective on the falls.  You can see how the falls have progressed along the plain over the past thousands of years as new gorges get cut by the torrents of water, and you can see where the next chapter is stating to be cut too.  A flight back over Hippo, Giraffe and fighting elephants topped the experience off nicely. A rather shaky and lop sided landing did get the pulse up a bit though.

BenAttacheshimselftoLawnmower_overVicFalls

BenAttacheshimselftoLawnmower_overVicFalls

After a week of relaxing with lots more drawing and reading (Bens now half way through his one book of the trip!) we got the Disco back as promised. We were on our way again to African country number 14 – Botswana.

We had a relatively easy day to the border, crossing on the Kazungula Ferry where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia all meet. As we travelled south into Bots we had to resort to some smuggling… we stashed the very nice piece of fillet steak and pork we’d just bought into the back of our disco – safely out of the fridge and out of the way of the very well fed staff that police the notorious Foot & Mouth Checkpoint. The meat smuggling was pretty successful, unfortunately we left a few good things in the fridge that were apparently ‘dangerous’. Ben was rather upset when our bacon disappeared whilst I had to ponder what on earth to cook without my staple ingredient of a butternut squash.

We headed for a campsite that had been recommended to us. As we pulled into Elephant Sands we were greeted with the sight of a bar full of people and 5 or 6 elephants all lined up before them. Elephant Sands has a waterhole which keeps the elephants arriving day and night and you can sit and watch them for hours, literally just metres away – absolutely fantastic!

CantheygetanyCloser?_ElephantSands

CantheygetanyCloser?_ElephantSands

From Elephant Sands we headed South to Nata and then turned out onto a dusty track towards the Ntwetwe Salt Pan and another recommended spot called Kubu Island.  After a couple of hours we could see the white haze of the salt pan on the horizon to our left. We continued driving and ended up at Kubu Island which sits on the edge of the pan with some massive boulders that spring up out of the greyey white haze. We decided that we didn’t want to pay $20 each to camp and that we’d find our own little free bush-camp spot somewhere in this deserted area. We continued and drove out onto the pan where the white haze stretched out to the horizon. We had the quietest night of our trip where we could literally hear nothing but our ears buzzing.

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The next morning we continued past some very old baobab trees and onto a different part of the pan where we drove through what seemed like talcum powder, we thought our car had been dusty before but nothing came close to this!

Dusty??_SaltPans

Dusty??_SaltPans

We had a lovely morning tea stop just looking over the vastness of the pan before continuing on to Maun the main town in the centre of the Okavango Delta, Botswana’s top visitor area.

We camped up next to the Okavango River and the next day was spent trying to remove the talcum powder from every nook and cranny in the car. The following day another British couple of overlanders Noel and Ping arrived (we’d met them previously for one night in Maputo, Mozambique) and we had a lovely couple of days with them, catching up on their travels. Ben tried to offer some mechanical advice on some vehicle issues they were having whilst they returned the favour offering Ben guidance on what painkillers he should take when his back started playing up and was unable to stand up straight. We took a fantastic scenic flight over the Delta which was amazing in the sense of perspective it offered over the area, we could also see elephants, hippos and giraffes from the air.

Ben – Note:  Strong back-pain relieving pain killers & an hour’s swooping around in a tiny plane can lead to use of the sick bags kindly provided.  The cool dude bush-pilot wont look too impressed though.  Think I preferred the Microlight!

Being squashed in a very small plane proved to Ben that taking a two day Mokoro (dug out canoe) trip onto the Delta from Maun was not a good idea with his back so after a couple of extra days in Maun we said our goodbyes to Noel and Ping and continued up the “Panhandle” (the Delta is kind of frying pan shaped when viewed from above, the river flowing into it down the “handle”) of the Delta towards Namibia. We stopped at a campsite/ lodge called Nguma Island enroute. The road into the lodge was good fun with lots of soft sand and then big water crossings where you couldn’t always see where you were going to exit the water. Fortunately some white sticks kind of marked the way and we made it up to the lodge without any dramas, I even enjoyed my off roading (probably because I managed not to get stuck anywhere or let the car conk out in the middle of the water).

Ben was feeling a bit better with his back and thought he was up to a one day mokoro trip. We had an amazing day out on the delta. Again made all the more special by our new found interest in all the beautiful birds. We first took a motor boat where we stopped to look at lots of different birds – fish eagles, bee-eaters, kingfishers and storks. We were then “poled” (Ben:  Punted if you’re a good Oxford boy like myself) on the mokoro through the reeds past lots of water lilies into the middle of nowhere again stopping off to see the abundant birdlife all around us.

Waterilly_Panhandle

Waterilly_Panhandle

It was then a relatively short drive up to the border on the West of the Caprivi strip and into Namibia where we’ll spend a month or so before returning to South Africa. Coming home seems to be getting closer and closer and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone again but talk of job interviews, commuting and the prospect of a dark, wet, cold British winter is all a bit strange!

Ben:  Our quick jaunt through Botswana was great, but it was quick.  Its not the cheapest place to be, and after hearing so many great things about Namibia we were itching to get there.  We’ve been here a few days and its not disappointing so far, Namibia tales coming soon.

Posted in Botswana & Namibia | 4 Comments

Installment 16: Zim to Zam and back to Vic falls

Ben – At the end of our last installment we were in Harare for the 2nd time, having just dropped Andy (Jens Brother) back there and enjoyed a night at the Book Café watching a few bands play.  Well we ended up at the Book Café again on the Monday night, Open mic night.

The day before we’d been at the hostel cleaning and tidying the Disco when Sam and Cat rolled in.  Sam and Cat are brother and sister we met back in South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains, and again at Great Zimbabwe.  They’ve driven their Land Cruiser from the UK too, but down the west side.  It was a great excuse to stay another day in one place and go out for a few beers and steak.  The acts that started the open mic evening were “a little shaky” (a couple were way too close to Karaoke), but as the evening went on they either improved, or the beers made it appear that way, we had another splendid evening there.  We also planned to meet up with Sam and Cat in Zambia a week or so later.  They too had heard fantastic things about Luangwa National Park.

The following day me and Jen headed North towards the Zambia border, our final Zimbabwe stop would be Mana Pools National park. We’d heard great things about that too.  The side of the main road was littered with car and truck wrecks, much like all roads in Africa it seems.  As we hit the northern hills of Zim the road was closed as 2 recovery trucks were busy trying to haul one of the totalled trucks out of a ravine, and back onto the tarmac.  We waited with an ever growing bunch of truckers for about two hours before the truck was on terra-firma.  Then one of the recovery trucks broke down blocking the road for another hour or more.  The hold up meant our journey into Mana turned into a bit of a “before sun down mission”, made all the more “enjoyable” by the last 2 hours of massive corrugations into the park that shook the Disco and us to pieces.

We arrived in the dark at a wonderful camp right on the edge of the Zambezi.  The South Africans we camped close too told us they’d seen a Lion kill an Impala inside the camp the day before! Through the trees to the right you could hear Hyenas, to the left elephants, behind us other things, identity unknown!  It was just brilliant.  We had been told Mana was wild, and it is.  We left the doors on all 4 sides of the roof-tent open so we could see whatever passed in the night! We were not disappointed,.  At something like 2am we woke to see and hear a huge elephant wander 10 meters from us, they look bigger through a mosi-net than they do through the window of a Land Rover.  He meandered past, grazing as he went before neatly weaving between the 2 ground tents of our South African Neighbours, just brilliant.

In the morning as I walked bleary eyed to the bathroom, I had to stop while two large male Impala’s finished their fight.  “Thwack”, they went as they crashed heads and locked horns, before doing a crazy intertwined backwards-forwards dance then ‘STOP’.  They both looked quickly up at me “What is this?  Who is he?  Is he a danger?  No!”  Thwack, and the dance continued.  Finally the bigger one pushed them both far enough off the path that my route to the toilet was clear.  The three sandy coloured frogs that live in the toilet roll holder greeted me on arrival, no toilet paper did though, it never does in Africa!

ManaPoolsGameViewSundowner

ManaPoolsGameViewSundowner

The following night as I lay in the tent, and Jen finished putting her bag away, another elephant crashed though the bushes about 20 meters away.  I don’t know if Jen or the elephant looked more surprised, but after a second or two both relaxed and the ele’ carried on its way past.  By day in Mana we saw Waterbuck, Nyala, Crocs, Hippos, Hippos and more Hippos, and so much more, but no cats.  We also spent a couple of hours on walking safari with one of the rangers, but saw less.  The animals seem more afraid of you on foot than they do in the car.  It was nice to stretch the legs though.

On the downside our run of travellers-good-fortune ended in Mana Pools, and we became the target of thieves.  Jen made breakfast as usual and carefully shut and locked all the doors of the Disco so we could take our chairs to the river front only about 20 meters away.  As we sat and savoured our tea and porridge we heard some clattering around the car, and turned to see a very cheeky Vervet Monkey first licking out the porridgey saucepan, then run off with our wooden spoon!  I had to chase the little blighter round the car a couple of times before he dropped the bounty and fled to the near by trees.  Note: if your trying to lock things safely away in the car, actually put them in the car!! (sorry Jen x).

Anyway, Mana Pools, its great (except the horrible corrugated road in and out)

From Mana we crossed the Border into Zambia, Africa country no. 13 for us.  We stopped briefly in the capitol Lusaka to do boring stuff, and by chance met David the Swedish Backpacker again in the hostel.  We’d met him briefly in Bulawayo, and said he could join us for a trip into some National Parks in Zambia if we crossed paths again (doing the parks with a backpack on public transport is not easy, we’ve met quite a few people who have had challenges).  David was at the end of an incredible round-the-world-trip of 9 month that started in Turkey-Iran-India ……  and was ending in Zambia, he was to fly home in a few days.  So our 3rd seat was filled as we left Lusaka heading North-East to Luangwa National Park.

Luangwa National Park is in two parts, the “developed” South, and the undeveloped North.  We’d arranged to meet Sam and Cat at Wildlife Camp in the South on the Tuesday, but were ahead of schedule so arrived on the Sunday.  This gave us a couple of days to relax before they arrived.

Jen: Wildlife Camp is stunning (and reasonably priced which is always good!), sat on the banks of the Luangwa River directly facing the park. It certainly lives up to it’s name,. The river is full of hippos which grunt all day and night, we also saw about 15 giraffes on the banks a little way from our camp. On our first night I woke to hear the very loud munching of grass and could make out the huge silhouette of a hippo just metres away from our car. The next night I heard what sounded like a galloping horse and assumed it must be a zebra. The next morning David said he’d also heard the noise and that it was actually a hippo. The sound of it was something else , it must have been really shifting which you wouldn’t expect of such a huge animal, I really wish I’d seen it. There was another morning when Ben was checking the disco over for our trip up to North Luangwa and our camping neighbours said there were elephant just behind the camp… I went to explore and indeed there were a family of 5 elephants with a very cute little one. I got a couple of piccies and then decided to get a little closer, without the cover of the bushes – big mistake! – the mum elephant saw me and decided I was a bit too close to here pride and joy so raised up her ears and started sauntering towards me. This obviously gave me a bit of a fright but fortunately no harm was done – I won’t be doing that again!

JensShownWho'sBoss_WildlifeCamp_SLuangwa

JensShownWho’sBoss_WildlifeCamp_SLuangwa

David headed out on a couple of guided drives before he headed back to Lusaka and home on the Wednesday.  His reports of Leopard spotting were really exciting, and we hoped we hadn’t missed our chance, we hadn’t.  With Sam and Cat on the Wednesday we took a guided drive in the morning and after a few hours were sat with a stunning Leopard just a foot from our front tyre.  We could see every detail of its beautiful coat as it sat surveying the ground ahead, and then weaving through the collection of game-drive cars that had gathered.  Our driver and guide then heard news of Lions at the far side of the park, so we took a long drive out there, we were not disappointed.  Three large adults, one male, two female were first lazing then wondering.  As Sam said, “The male hasn’t got dinner on his mind”, he was busy with a macho show for the benefit of the ladies.

1stGlimpseofLeopard_SLuangwa

1stGlimpseofLeopard_SLuangwa

Later the same day we took an evening and night drive with the same driver and guide, our first night-drive of the trip.  The night-drive experience is fairly intense.  Firstly all your senses are alive like never before, the air is cool and fresh, your sight is limited, and your focused on the ever scanning spot light on the car moving side to side.  If you sit for a moment and watch the people on the vehicle, it looks like they are watching a very slow tennis match.  Secondly it seems the drivers and guides have some special kind of extra pride at stake.  They don’t stop and chat and share info like in the daytime and if they see something they seem to want to save it for themselves.  When something special is spotted and a few vehicles come together a kind of panic seems to ensue between the drivers to get the best view.

We were very lucky again, we had a short spell tracking a Hyena, the guide said that “when they move like he is, they are likely stalking a Leopard, ready to pounce on it prey should it make a kill”.  He wasn’t wrong.  After a while the Leopard was spotted, a striking powerful image in our spot light.  In our manoeuvres to get a better look it kind of back tracked and disappeared, and the Hyena’s cover was blown, we felt bad that we’d interfered.  Later a few vehicle lights were spotted across a large ditch.  As was drove quickly to get through it, and see what they’d seen, two Hippos appeared in the track ahead of us.  It was a surreal moment, spot light illuminating the arses of the Hippos ahead as they strolled down the track, whilst our driver angrily muttered “move you bloody Hippos, I think there’s a Leopard over there”.  Eventually they listened and moved aside, and there was indeed another Leopard.  They are so elegant, but by this time the frenzy of game-vehicles had sent it heading for cover.  On the drive we also glimpsed a Civet, and spent a good few minutes with a playful Gennet.  Girrafes and Impala’s and Pukus were in plentifull supply, but we passed them quickly in search of the nocturnal inhabitants.

NightDriveGennet_SLuangwa

NightDriveGennet_SLuangwa

Our main aim of meeting Sam and Cat was to team up to try the drive from South to North Luangwa.  This drive had been on our minds since talking to Inga and Gerrard, a German couple we met back in Kenya at Christmas.  They are seasoned Africa travellers, and loved Luangwa.  For us , the possibility of heading this way had actually influenced our plan to by-pass Zambia earlier in the trip and head past it to Malawi to Mozambique before heading down to South Africa then up through Zimbabwe and onto Zambia.  And why the big diversion?  To avoid the Zambia rains, had it worked…..?

We were still early in the season, the rains had not long finished, would the route be open and passable?  We asked as many people as we could and got typically vague and differing views.  Our most reliable news came from Conrad at Wildlife Camp in South Luangwa, he told us that a month before he would have said definitely don’t try it, and in a months time it would definitely “be passable”, but now ??  He kindly radio’ed some friends of his doing research in the area, and they said that “some vehicles had passed”, and a pontoon had been up and running for a week or 2.  We all decided to give it a go.

Day 1 we did a short half-day drive to a known camp at Chitimbe. Aside from an unnecessary dry river bed crossing all went well, (we spent half an hour walking and defining a rocky route through a small stream, only to see another car drive 200 meters further and cross a small bridge we’d missed a few minutes later, as we had a celebratory cup of tea (Sam and Cat like a cup of tea, and Jen likes any excuse for a biscuit!!)).  The camp was rustic and great.  We pitched right on the Zambezi again, and cooked dinner whilst watching the Hippos playing in it.  It did have an open air toilet and shower that looked out across the river, just perfect for a wilderness spot like this where no-one would pass.  No-one that is apart from the two guys on a micolight who did a low flyby in the morning as Jen showered off the previous days dust in the open air bush shower, brilliant timing!

Day 2 was a longer one.  Early on as we transited across another small National Park (Luambe) we encountered a challenging dry river crossing where the road through was well mashed up.  We took an hour or so to carefully get round it though a route of our own making.  Then we watched a local in an old landcruiser combine our route and take our advice (Sam introduced him to his low-range, hub locks and four-wheel-drive system !!), with his typically African strategy of maximum attack.  He made it too eventually, and lurched away with his passengers hanging on for dear life to our cries of “High range, high range” You have to love the African strategy of maximum attack and no knowledge of how their vehicle works.

Jen: Part of our ‘challenge’ of getting through the tricky river crossing was doing a three point turn is some very soft sand in order to get ourselves pointing in the right direction. Once this was done we thought it was relatively plain sailing to get through the river and up out the other side… not so.. As Ben bumped over the track of tree branches he seemed to get stuck, after a little investigate we found that one cheeky log had got stuck in the bracket for our anti roll bar and was stopping us move forwards. We tried to lever it down so that we could drive over it, we also tried to pull it out of the ground but this little pesky branch was not going anywhere. Fortunatley Sam came to the rescue with a small hand saw and soon removed the offending item. We decided that it would be only right to ceremoniously burn it on our fire that night. The photos below shows the events of the offending branch and I promise it was an accident of how the final photo turned out… it caused us much amusement around the fire that night so thought that you might enjoy it too!

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We passed though a number of other rocky river beds before coming out onto a hugely overgrown section where the bush squealed its way down the side of the Disco and in places all you could see ahead was Disco high grass.  The piste under tyre was OK though, apart from the small section that caused my first puncture of the trip!!!!  It was slow going though, and we made the decision to stop short of the Chifunda Camp that we had heard about, and bush-camp instead.  This was fabulous.  Wild bush indeed complete with roaring lions, close, but not too close!

Day 3 started with a couple more hours through the undergrowth.

Road???withHippoHoles_EnroutetoNLuagwa

Road???withHippoHoles_EnroutetoNLuagwa

From there we headed to the Pontoon, a reassuringly sturdy looking collection of steal cylinders welded together, with a worryingly long and rickety looking causeway to and from it made of piles of branches and stuff.  The Crocs and Hippos either side of the vessel added a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’??

NervousDriveOff_PontoonNLuangwa

NervousDriveOff_PontoonNLuangwa

Both vehicles disembarked the vessel without incident, and we’d arrived – this was North Luangwa National Park.  We spent the rest of the day slowly making our way across the park, stopping at various water holes to watch the birds and Warthogs, and hoped for more Cats, or elephants or something.  But sadly the animal life was not forthcoming.  Still, we didn’t really mind, we’d seen some of real Africa again en-route, some tiny tribal villages, and proper wilderness, and the landscape as we got to the west side of the park was beautiful too.  We camped up at a community camp site at Mana Gate  and BBQ’ed the large piece of fillet beef that we’d been saving in the fridge to celebrate successfully negotiating the Luangwas, it was delicious.

From there we spent one more night with Cat and Sam in the Muntinondo Wilderness area at the most expensive camp site of the trip I think, lovely but well over priced.  We had an evening and morning walk with the others before saying ta ta, and going our separate ways again, Sam and Cat headed north to Tanzania, we headed South (yes south, we’re heading the right way again after going the wrong way, north, for the past couple of months) toward Victoria falls for a second time, (we saw the other side of it in Zimbabwe).  Now we are chilling there for a few days.

Its been a fantastic journey here from Harare, some incredible and wild places, (sorry if I’ve waffled on too much about it all!), we’ve got more to come soon in Botswana and Namibia, I cant wait!!!!

Ta  ta for now

Ben

Posted in Zimbabwe & Zambia | 8 Comments

Installment 15: Zimbabwe – Don’t believe everything you read and hear!

Jen: The last few weeks have been spent in Zimbabwe and we’ve had a thoroughly great time. We’d heard mixed things about Zim before we arrived – obviously there are the politics, issues with the economy and lots of horror stories about corruption and bribery. Having said that other overlanders we’ve met on route have had lots of positive things to say, especially about the people so we were keen to find out for ourselves….

From Joburg we had a couple of big driving days to get up to Harare and on route faced our  1st Zim challenge: The border

We’d heard lots of nightmare reports about the border crossing at Beitbridge, – huge queues, big bribes, fixers scamming you and staff that take a pleasure out of making your day a misery …. we therefore made an early start and were prepared to be very patient and not let any immigration staff get to us. All this was pretty unnecessary as by 7:30 we were through into Zim– no big queues, no bribes required and helpful smiley staff throughout – the crossing was as straight forwards as any border we’ve crossed since Sudan into Ethiopia.

As soon as we entered the country it was clear to see that everything is a little run down with quite a lot of rubbish around and buildings and land looking very tired, however it was good to see people on the roads and small market stalls – we were back in Africa!

As we drove we faced Challenge no 2 – Zim police!

If we were to believe what we’d been told we’d be stopped every 20km or so, the vehicle would be thoroughly checked, the police would find something wrong or make something up in order to get some money out of us and we’d need to budget for the police bribes for each journey … from our experience we drove through a police road block every 50-100km, not every block would even stop us, when they did sometimes all they wanted was a chat, to find out how were enjoying Zimbabwe and find out where we were from. A couple carried out some cursory checks but we found the police nothing but professional and generally extremely friendly – Tanzania police could learn a lot from these guys!

We arrived in Harare where we stayed at the Small World Backpackers Lodge which was heaving with lots of people there to go to the Harare International Festival Arts (HIFA). Our camping spot was a very tight space in the car park and it wasn’t very long before we got chatting to our new very close neighbours Nikos and Georiga, a really fun overlanding couple from Greece who were also camping on their roof – within an arms length of us. We had a fun day at the HIFA festival with a good crowd from the hostel, unfortunately we couldn’t check out quite as much music as we’d have liked as at the HIFA festival you have to pay for each act so we just popped a long to a couple of gigs – over to our resident gig reviewer Butler:

Ben – The festival is on for a number of days, we could only visit for one.  It’s a slightly strange setup with one free stage where acts come and go and you can sit and chat with friends (this was nice but none of the acts grabbed me at all).  Around this there are a number of other tents/stages where you can pay to see specific acts, we went to see 2 gigs, Kunle Ayo & Adiana Mabroke in the afternoon, and Bheki Bhoza & Victor Kutonga in the evening.

Kunle Ayos was nice enough with lots of lovely African guitar & a guest appearance from an Aussie trumpet player (who’s name escapes me), who added something quite jazz oriented and unique.  Adiana Mabroke is a vocalist from South Africa I think, not my cup of tea, a bit Celine Dion, and lyrics cheesier than a Roquefort and Camembert Sandwich with side serving of cheesy Watsits.

In the evening we saw local boy Victor Kutonga on stage with Bheki Bhoza.  This was much more like it.  Some typically African outfits set things off on the right foot, then the guitar work of the 2 main guys cut in on top of some very smooth work from the backline-chaps. 

Before the gigs started we were all warned not to dance on the “grandstand” we were sat in as it might collapse, and indeed it might of done!!!  Luckily the dancing was left mainly to a very energetic white girl who seemed to take great pleasure it diverting attention from the acts with here crazy moves in front of the stage.  Her efforts to drag the serious looking men in suits (Friends of Roberts maybe?) from their positions on plastic chairs in the front row failled though, shame.

Jen: My brother Andy arrived the day afterwards and we headed north out of Harare towards Lake Kariba. We knew the road wasn’t going to be great and accommodation options were somewhat limited but as we do our best not to do the same road twice it was the only way for us – Andy was certainly thrown into overlanding with a good long, rough road day. Due to there being so few places and bush camping not being an ideal start to Andys holiday we headed to Chizaria National Park – we arrived as it was getting dark and the road was as rough as we’ve come across (not a good combination) this led us to having an impromptu bush camp outside the Park Offices. We spent the next morning having a drive around the park but didn’t see a great deal, we therefore headed on to our next stop and enjoyed a very nice campground, complete with swimming pool on the shores of Lake Kariba (Andy seemed much happier with this set up!)

We then made our way to Vic Falls and camped up at a backpackers place. We had a fantastic day viewing Vic Falls from as many different ways as we could find on the Zim side. We walked along the 14 view points in the park. Initially we laughed at the tour groups in their huge ponchos… Being just after the rainy season we were expecting it to be wet in places but as we got towards Danger Point (one of the views that is directly opposite the main falls) the amount of rain (spray) coming down was like being in a huge downpour – the multi coloured poncho people were indeed very clever!

JustaLittleWet_VicFalls

JustaLittleWet_VicFalls

TheSpraythatThunders

TheSpraythatThunders

Later that afternoon we took a little trip out to Vic Falls Hotel which is a beautiful old colonial building with views of the spray and Vic Falls Bridge in the distance. It’s a very fine place to go for afternoon tea with lots of very nicely dressed people having lots of fancy cakes off twee cake stands. We decided $30 was a bit pricey for some cake so opted for some hot drinks and not only enjoyed the views but also smiled at the well to do people having a jolly afternoon (we fitted right in as I’m sure you can imagine!).

Hwange National Park was our next stop and as it’s been quite a while since we’ve been on a safari Ben and I were really looking forward to it. We entered from the less used side on the West and stayed at Robins Camp before making our way East over the next few days to Main camp. We got to enjoy the numerous animal hides and water pans that are dotted around Hwange (known as Wankie locally which we couldn’t help but find amusing). It was really lovely to sit, relax and watch the animals come to us rather than drive around for hours and hours in search of them. The last morning around Nyamandhlovu Pan was particularly special with so many different animals arriving.

HwangeMorning

HwangeMorning

We also have to say a big thanks to Rich and Ali who we’d taken a safari with in Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda – they’d shown us how interesting the smaller mammals and birdlife can be. This meant we had a far more interesting safari in Hwange with a much better appreciation of everything around us. We had one particularly nice afternoon/ evening at Mandavu Dam. The local park attendant – Knowledge (there as so many amazing names in Zim, we’ve met Privilege, 2-Years and Talent) could spot Waterbuck, Impalas and Kudus on the opposite shore which was about 1km away. We all picked up the binoculars to look where he was pointing and sometimes struggled to see things straight away. We were all in awe at how he could spot animals so far away with just his eyes. The dam was full of hippos which made lots of good noises during the night!

We then headed for Bulawayo, Zims second city and had a good couple of days enjoying the old colonial architecture, an art gallery and the lads also had some fun in an old railway museum. Bulawayo was most memorable for me because of the amazing friendly people we seemed to meet everywhere, all with the most enormous smiles.

Matobos National Park is just slightly south of Bulawayo and is famous for it’s granite landscapes, some ancient San Rock paintings and also being the burial place of Cecil John Rhodes. We spent a couple of days exploring the park, it’s stunning with some massive granite rocks just balanced on top of others. We attempted to walk up to one of the old caves which is famous for rock paintings but unfortunately started out a bit late in the day and weren’t expecting to find the navigation quite so tricky. It all seemed quite easy before we set out – “just follow the yellow arrows” however the yellow arrows came and went and not being a particularly well trodden path we spent some time walking around in circles in search of the elusive arrows. At 3:30 we decided to cut our losses and head back to camp as we didn’t want to be in search of arrows in the dark!

InsearchofArrows_Hwange

InsearchofArrows_Hwange

When we got back to camp we met a lovely South African couple – Gerhard and Santie who invited us over for drinks. When we arrived they’d cooked us 2nd dinner and were also keen to share lots of drinks with us. We had a really lovely evening chatting about our travels. On our last night in Matobos we decided to go rhino trekking with a local guide. We spent a few hours looking for footprints, dung, scratching posts and pathways but unfortunately didn’t quite manage to see a rhino, apparently they were “very very close”. Despite not seeing the rhino we all had a great afternoon and learnt a lot from our guide and it’s made us keen to do more guided safaris in future.

We then headed to Great Zimabwe, an ancient city built with big stone walls in between the massive granite bolders which dates back to about 1100AD and is therefore pretty unique in Sub Saharan Africa.  Coincidently we bumped into Sam and Kat again who’d we’d met in the Drakensberg, we had a good night with them catching up on travels since we last met and made some tentative plans to join them in Luangwa for a night drive.

Finally we headed back to Harare, had a very nice last night with Andy by visiting the Book Café – Harare’s leading venue for music and arts. Following previous African gig experiences we had a little bit of a shock when we popped down there at 6:30 to check out what was happening later that night – there was a band already on the stage! We headed back a little later to enjoy some good African rhythms and  lots of locals very much enjoying themselves with a lot of dancing.

Next on the agenda is another truck service (yep we’ve completed another 6000km since Nelspruit) before driving up to Zambia to visit South Luangwa and then checking out Vic Falls from the other side.

Posted in Zimbabwe & Zambia | 4 Comments

Instalment 14 – Going loopy in South Africa & Lesotho

Jen – Going loopy in more ways than one…

1)    We’ve taken a bit of a loop down to South Africa before backtracking up north, mainly to avoid the rainy season in Zambia – South and North Luangwa have come so highly recommended we wanted to make sure we could get around and see them at their best

2)    We’ve had a couple of days going round in circles due to the rainy conditions we’ve found down south – Ben will tell you more…

3)    Joburg is a frustratingly ‘modern’ American type of city which reminds me of Redditch… (Mum – a bit like the day I tried to take you to Tescos!) you can see exactly where you need to go but can’t get off the road or in the direction you need to and end up driving around and around in circles… for hours – arrghh!

Ben – We made it to 2am!!  Rock & Roll!!

In our last instalment in Maputo we were off to catch some live music in the Gil Vicente  bar in the city.  The band were from Swaziland and called Spirits Indigenous.  They were simply brilliant.  A infectious mix of something funky & something traditional with two amazing female vocalists, one a little bit crazy, one just beautiful.  I’ve tried to find some of there stuff online, but so far failed to find a good example of the gig we saw, this is the best I can do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9VuBpPJCiQ

Anyway, since Maputo we changed our plans a bit.  We were going to head down the coast on “the bumpy road”, (a term used by Noel & Ping, a great couple we met at the Maputo hostel who were also “overlanding africa”).  But we decided to take the easy route to South Africa to get to civilisation quicker and give the Disco some TLC.

South Africa, oh my word, a bit of a shock, we felt like we’d left Africa and re-entered Europe.  We spent an hour in a huge “Shoprite” supermarket in Nelspruit bewildered by 300 flavours of yogurt, meat piled to ceiling, all the veg imaginable.  The streets outside look like America, 3 lanes wide, endless shopping malls & fancy cars & pickups.  As soon as we rocked up at the Funky Monkeys hostel to camp up, we met Mo, an Englishman living in SA / Mozambique who phoned-a-friend for us to find a good Landy Mechanic, James Jackson was the man apparently.  The following day we hunted him down and finally met up with him in his workshop to talk about the few issues we had, nothing too worrying, but a couple of things that had needed attention for a while.  His workshop was full of old Series Landys & Defenders, and the years of experience James has in the Landy tinkering business said it was the right place to be.  James was a fantastic source of other info too, he’d spent a lot of time in Zambia & Namibia (we’re heading that way), so we ended up camping in his garden and joining him for a Brai (BBQ!) whilst drinking his beer & wine.

Jen: We had a fantastic evening chatting to James and his friend Val, James couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Whilst Ben hovered around the workshop during the day, with the guys fixing the landie James opened up his house for me, and I sat on his veranda in the sunshine, with some amazing safari books, my sketch book, binoculars and a guide to South African birds – I had a lovely day whilst Ben had a slighty more stressful day and came back covered in grease. That night we were shown a true South African brai with a fair bit of wine, and beer plus we got to sample biltong (something we didn’t think we liked but we were wrong). James also had some many tips for us plus a bundle of maps that he gave us for our journey.

CampedatJames

CampedatJames

Whilst in Nelspruit town we also bumped into Marga, Marcel, Tom & Fleur, (the family we’d staying in Vilanculos in Mozambique with).  It just so happened that Ray & Avril (friends from back in Uganda/Rwanda) were also passing, so all 8 of us ended up camping up together for a night which was brilliant.  All in all our diversion to the non-descript town of Nelspruit had been a belter!!

From here we headed south, bound for the mountains of the Drakensberg & Lesotho.  The day we left was a dreary grey cold day of drizzle, much like being at home, and it was a long drive.  We rocked up in the Northern Drakensberg close to Bergville in the rain, had a hot-chocolate before cooking in the drizzle, eating fast & retreating to the hostels lounge & roaring fires.  It was another night of socialising, this time with Brother & Sister due Sam & Kat   They’d come down the West coast of the continent and were starting to head north in the LandCruiser.  The following day we almost joined them for the hike to “the amphitheatre” and the worlds 2nd highest waterfall, but the relentless rain put us off, so we left them to it.  Instead we drove south into the Drakensburg mountains which are apparently stunning.  I say apparently ‘cos the cloud and rain persisted for 2 more days, and we saw very little except ta stunning sun-set that lasted all of 10 mins, and some nice morning views from Hilton (the town, not the Hotel) that lasted all of 20 mins.  We passed through a number of fords that got deeper & faster flowing, before having to back-track for a couple of hours because a one that was simply impassable

1stRoadImpassableDrakensberg

1stRoadImpassableDrakensberg

As with so many things though, the disappointment was more than made up for later.  What had been falling as rain in the Drakensberg, was falling as snow in the high tiny independent country of Lesotho.  We headed up the Sani pass with warnings of terrible road conditions & possible closure ringing in our ears.  Lesotho is not like South Africa, or much like any other African country we’ve seen, in fact I’d liken it to Kyrgzstan, It’s simply stunning.  At the foot of the Sani pass the tar runs out, and track begins which gets progressively rougher & steeper as you climb to the summit at 2874m.  As we got near the top we reached the snow and it was just fantastic.  After the pass (and the border formalities in the hut at the top) the track plateaued for a while before climbing further to about 3300m, and over the coming days the landscape just got better and better.

StunningDrive_Lesotho

StunningDrive_Lesotho

On night 1 we stayed in a lovely “lodge” in Molumong  where we had the place to ourselves to cook dinner when Daniel the guy who looks after it went home leaving us with a box of matches to light the candles (no electricity up here).

ViewfromMulomong

ViewfromMulomong

The following day we drove 60km in 3 hours (the roads are all steep & rough and snowey in places) towards the Katse Dam before coming to a raging torrent of water that had washed out a major bridge.  So again we had to back track, and with no other routes this meant a return to the Molumong lodge.

2ndRoadImpassable_Lesotho

2ndRoadImpassable_Lesotho

Jen – As we drove along we went past lots of people, wrapped up in blankets and balaclavas, nearly every time we got a beautiful smile and a wave from them. We were both quite disappointed to be driving back the way we’d just come but I can’t think of many roads I’d have preferred to do twice (despite the rough and rocky conditions) – something we proved the next day when we had to go along the tar road which was still stunning but not a patch on the day before.

This time we had company though, Farni & his friend who we’d met at the foot of Sani were there with a French Hitch-Hiker called Alex who they’d found en-route.  Farni is a Landrover Technician from Cape Town who was there in a brand new Discovery.  We gave them the bad news that they wouldn’t make it to Katse, and agreed to take Alex with us the next day.  The alternative route was a more major route, and although the tar was pretty ropey, and in places actually gravel, it was way faster.  It was nowhere near as interesting as the previous day though, few sheep herders, or horsemen wrapped in blankets, and the feeling was not that of a completely remote wilderness,  we were so glad we’d taken our 6 hour detour, see some pics below.

LesothoLandscape

LesothoLandscape

We would have spent more time in Lesotho, we loved it, definitely a top 5 country of the trip for me (more top 5’s to come soon), but now we are on a mission to get up to Harare (Zimbabwe) to meet Andy (Jens Brother) who is joining us for a couple of weeks, so we’ll have to go back one day.  We are in Johannesburg now, and planning to head to Zim tomorrow.  Jo’berg is a sprawling urban city that hasn’t excited us much, we are looking forward to going back to real Africa!!  (We did visit the Apartheid museum today which was really interesting, and so well put together)

Anyway, tata for now, Ben

Posted in S Africa & Lesotho | 6 Comments

Instalment 13 “You’re really starting to irritate me now” – Jen to Ben as we’re nearing day 200 of the trip: Malawi into Mozambique

Jen: So we’ve made it to Maputo the capital of Mozambique and have completed over 200 days on the road. Ben is getting even better at playing me up but we’re doing well. As another overlander Marcello put it – “We have nothing left to say to each other but we are still talking!”

Following from our last blog entry, we left a rather dreary Nkata Bay and had a very short drive down to Chitenche and a lovely lodge called Mkuzi, recommended by nearly every overlander we met coming the other way. We arrived in the rain and were really chuffed to see another Overland wagon and roof tent with British plates – it could only be Brits braving the weather with sheets of rain coming down. We soon got talking to Keith and Laura who were travelling north, huddled under the only bit of shelter –  the back of the tent. Fortunately the weather brightened up and we got to appreciate just how beautiful our little camping spot was. The following day we had mixed weather but managed to squeeze in a small kayaking trip out to a nearby island and also try out a bit of snorkelling.

Just below Makuzi is Kande Beach where there is a nearby horse stables. We were greeted by a very friendly brummie guy Johnny who owned the business and also convinced us to treat ourselves and stay in his beautiful guest room for the night. Our afternoon was spent on a lovely horse ride walking through the local village and attempting to trot. Trotting proved a little challenging for me as my horse Clover was a girl after my own heart and liked her food. Just as I was trying to lean forward and steer her she’d come to a very abrupt stop, her head would go down in order to eat as much grass and leaves as possible which meant I’d lurch forwards and just about hold on. Ben did a little better and managed some cantering. The afternoon ended in taking the horses into the lake for a swim just as the sun was beginning to go down – amazing! thanks to Ant and S for this top recommendation.

Stopping by Cape McClear we ran into Karen and Marcello an English & South Afrcian couple who were also heading South but unfortunately not exactly in our direction. We happened to catch up with them on Karen’s birthday so we had a lovely glass of bubbly to celebrate, on the shores of Lake Malawi as the sun was going down and a good brai (bbq) with a few too many glasses of wine. Before leaving Malawi we spent a day up on the Zomba Plateau, a beautiful forested area with waterfalls and view points looking down on the plains below.

It was then time to head into Mozambique. The roads from Malawi to the main coast roads in Mozambique vary in quality but are generally dirt roads and can become quite bad in the rainy season. We’re currently in the rainy season and there have been recent flood warnings for the South of Mozambique. We therefore did a lot of asking around and checking but were told the road we wanted to take towards Ilha de Mozambique should be ok. After crossing the border we had most of the day on a very dull, straight dirt road which was slow in places but generally ok. The afternoon more than made up for this as the scenery changed with green countryside and the most enormous granite mountains springing up out of nowhere, as Ben said it looked like they’d just been dropped out of space. It made me realise how fantastic a journey like this is, we would never have just chanced upon this amazing landscape on a normal holiday.

NorthernMozambique

NorthernMozambique

Mozambique has a Portuguese history and we’d been expecting it to feel quite different to other African countries. After a stop in our first Mozambique city – Nampula we felt very much like we could be in Cuba or the Mediterranean. The buildings and architecture were different with a lot of tree lined avenues. There were even some Socialist/ Cuban type of murals on the walls. Some of the music also has a much more Hispanic feel.

We had a day or so exploring Ilha de Mozambique which was a little different to what we were expecting. There were some very dilapidated colonial buildings on the north side of the tiny island which had a feeling a tiny bit like Zanzibar. The highlight was the Palace Museum, the former home of the Portuguese Governor which has been totally restored, full of old paintings and antique furniture. We also ran into an Italian guy who’d lived on the island for 13 years who is keen to do his own overland trip in the near future. He invited us back to his for lunch and we had the most delicious food whilst we talked about potential routes and places to see. We also got see his beautiful home and hear a little about his work on the island as an architect.

IlhaDoMozambique

IlhaDoMozambique

We then had a little detour North to not the most obvious of places – Nacala is quite an industrial town and port. However just north of Nacala is a bay with a protected area good for snorkelling so we headed to Libelula and camped up in a spot overlooking the sea. Libelula was officially closed for renovations but we were ok to camp. We really enjoyed a day sat on the beach but under the shade of the trees reading and drawing. We spent the afternoon snorkelling off the beach before taking our mini bbq down to the beach to have dinner and wine as the sun was setting.

FernaoVelosoSunsetBbq

FernaoVelosoSunsetBbq

We took another little detour visiting a more mountainous area with tea plantations – Gurue which was stunning. The we had a couple of big drive days South. Mozambique has come as a bit of a shock to the system, we’re suddenly in a really large country with big distances between the major towns and not many accommodation options. The long driving days were made totally worthwhile when we arrived in Vilanculos. We stayed with Marcel, Marga, Fleur and Tom (the family we’d met in Ethiopia who were moving to Mozambique). They have bought a lovely property right next to the white sands and turquoise waters that stretch out to the Bazaruto Archipelago. They have some amazing plans to open a small guest house and bakery. We had a great couple of days enjoying the local surroundings, talking about travelling and their plans. Fleur who is 9 made us cookies or cakes each day and Ben finally got his lego fix, extending Toms lego kingdom with a boat jetty.

We left Vilanculos and headed towards Inhambane and the nearby peninsula which is renowned for it’s beautiful beaches and diving. We headed up towards the Barra peninsula and made our way towards the Lighthouse campsite. It all seemed a little strange as there was suddenly lodge after lodge, we were definitely in South African holiday territory. On travelling to our camp-spot we found the recent rains had caused some of the sandy tracks to flood. Rather than being beaten by a bit of water I decided to get the flip flops out and check out the depth and muddiness of the puddle before taking the disco through. Ben and a local guy were thoroughly amused as I tentatively made my way round the puddle, at one point the water going from my ankles to above my knees in one step. After my research mission Ben decided it was fine and ploughed on through. Everything was totally worth the effort when we arrived up at the Lighthouse campsite. An absolutely stunning spot looking down at a few kilometres of beach below and with quite a lot of surf breaking on the shore. We met the owner Dennis who soon won us around to having a fantastic meal of fish, calamari with some coconut and peanut sauce – an absolutely delicious feast.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to go snorkelling (for various reasons) we have made our way down to Maputo and we will try again as we drive south down the coast to Durban in South Africa. In the meantime we’re hoping to find some good music venues around the city to experience a little of the Portuguese influenced night life.

Ben – It has been great in Mozambique because it has felt quite different to the other parts of Africa we have come through.  We were both keen to come to here right from the initial plans for our trip, not because of any special sites, but because everything we read about it sounded quite vibrant and reminded us of Cuba (which we loved).

The food has been great, not only the obvious fish, calamari & octopus either (Mozambique has something like 2500km of coastline).  When we got to the first big town, Nampula, we bought some great fresh bread (not easy to find further north), and some delicious creamy & tasty local cheese.  When we met the Gabriel (Italian architect on Ilha de Mozambique), he introduced us to the local Mango and Lemon Pickle (quite like the lime pickle you get with your popadoms in India), and I have become addicted to it.  It is all very home made and gets sold on little stalls outside peoples huts along the main road, the first jar we bought erupted like a volcano when I opened it, fizzing over the jar sides for a couple of minutes.  It hasn’t killed us though, and a cheese sandwich for lunch has become luxury.  Not sure what I will do when it runs out

Peoples attitudes to us travelling though are quite different here too.  You tend to get ignored rather than hassled, which is quite nice !! 

Maputo seems a great city, relaxed but plenty going on.  Tonight we hope to find some live music in a bar we visited yesterday, we may well be up after midnight!!  That will be a shock to the system cos the sun seems to rise so early here our day tends to start at 5.30, and end embarrassingly early!

Anyway, until next time I will stop waffling on, Ben

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Instalment 12 – “Leaving Dar! & entering Malawi” AKA: “A (Book) Mission to the (Catholic) Mission”

AKA: “Sister Act 3” (maybe?? depending on how many previous Sister Act films there are, you know me and Jen are crap at films!)

Ben – We had arrived at Woody’s in Dar-es-Salam on the 11th February, and after 5 nights on Zanzibar for the music festival, a couple of days cleaning and servicing the Disco, a couple of days helping Woody out with a few things and a couple of days relaxing in his house & pool, and another day visiting the beach and museum, and finally getting our passports back from the Mozambique embassy with Visa’s installed, it was 27th February, 17 days later!  Thanks so much to Woody letting us treat his lovely house like our own, after 146 days on the road is was luxury, but the stay had caused a large plateau in my graph of days passed verses kilometre’s covered….

Back by popular demand its ……

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Geeks corner :

On today (13th March) it is day 176 of our trip

We are in our 8th African country Malawi (and before: Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt)

We have covered 24,353km, in about 555 driving hours, using 2783 litres of diesel – Price ranging from 0.11 £/litre (Egypt) to 1.53 £/litre (Turkey)

The disco has been serviced 4 times, still only the rear shock has given us any real trouble, although a window winding mechanism, a set of rear brake pads and the clutch slave cylinder have been changed too, and a tinker with the diff lock mechanism was required in Kenya.

Sadly our bush-camp percentage is down to 10% as from Ethiopia south it’s a lot less easy & necessary (but in Namibia we hope to pull that back up again).  Nights in our tent has nudged up to 71%, the rest were in boats & rooms, including a new category “stayed with friends” which enters the chart at 8%, mainly thanks to Woody, but also thanks to Father Chahali & the Sisters (read later), and Ben&Lucy&Orla way back in Hassocks last September.

We have finished 4.3 cans of “Ultrathon” Mosi spray

Jen has finished 3.5 tubes of Pizbuin all day sun cream, Ben has used about 0.1.

Jen has won 53% of the Backgammon games, but only cos she’s lucky with the double 6’s.

Things lost:

The washing line (Jen blames me)

Our decent head torch (Jen blames me)

Large spoon (way back in Turkey, Jen admits it was her fault, definitely)

A plate (Before we even left home, no idea?)

10,000 Tanzanian shillings, thanks to a dodgy money changer guy I knew was diddling us, still that’s only 4 pounds, it still infuriates me!!

Our sanity (on occasions)

Bart, just for you, we’ve now used about 42 Dickshnoodles.

Days of torrential set in rain that looks like going knowhere fast, ONE, Today, can you tell I’m a little bored.

So, back to the story…

We left Dar 2 weeks ago, and with a Mission.  Woody & Roy’s company Wild Thing Safaris, also runs a lodge in the Udzungwa Mountains called Hondo Hondo.  The lodge is in an area that Roy has visited for various reasons for the past 18 years.  He’s particularly well known in a small town/village called Itete which is about 150km south of Hondo Hondo, and well off any kind of main road, and here Wild Things & Hondo Hondo have been helping build a medical facility & with other things.  It just so happened that as we left Dar there were 450 text books that needed taking down there…  Here starts our “fortnight of good will”.  Good deed no. 1:

Jen:  We had a lovely day in the Udzungwa Mountains with a very knowledgeable guide called David. He spotted lots of different animals and birds and was extremely patient with me and Ben being particularly blind in seeing anything (you’d think after nearly 5 months in this continent we’d be a little better but clearly we have a long way to go!). We hiked up to Sanje Falls with beautiful views below towards Selous National Park. We got suitably hot and sweaty on our climb and enjoyed taking a dip in the refreshing (ie pretty chilly) waterfall pool at the top. We returned in the afternoon to Hondo Hondo where we enjoyed sitting at the bar looking up at the forested mountain slopes and then treating ourselves to a very nice three course dinner and one too many glasses of wine.

We’d planned to leave Hondo Hondo the following morning but pulling out of the camp that morning Ben had thought something was a bit wrong with the clutch (as normal I’d not spotted a thing). After unpacking various boxes of spares from the back and me pressing the clutch “up” and “down” a lot Ben started to change the slave cylinder (I was listening to his mechanical ramblings for a change). It was particularly hot this day and Ben had managed to get quite nicely covered in Clutch fluid (nasty stuff) and a lot of oil and grease – I definitely had the better job. After some wurble wurble semantics (one of my Dad’s phrase that means general swearing and unhappiness) Ben finally got it all back together and it seemed to be working as good as new. We did however decide that driving a couple of hundred kilometres into the middle of nowhere, further away from any sort of help wasn’t the most sensible thing to do and therefore took it for a test drive up to Mikuni to check it out which proved all good.

The next day we were ready to make our trip down south, past Ifakara down to see Father Chahali at the Itete mission. We had a good drive down to Ifakara, a relatively big town considering it’s not on any main road. We had a nice wander around the market, stopped at the local Womens Weavers Association and tracked down the local nuns who apparently made good bread. From there we continued to the Kilombero Ferry crossing and down to the small town of Itete. We arrived at the Catholic Mission and were immediately made to feel very welcome by the Sisters and Father Chahali. As we were chatting to the Father over a cup of tea Ben just mentioned in passing that it happened to be my birthday, Father Chahali responded that we’d have to celebrate later that evening and I thought no more about it.

At 7 that evening we met with Father Chahali outside the mission for a couple of glasses of wine/ beer. As we were sat there we could hear some ladies singing and some drumming, the sound got closer and we then realised that the group of ladies were heading in our direction. The 7 trainee nuns had come from the convent to invite us back to dinner.

On arriving at the hall in the Convent it was clear a large amount of food had been prepared for us, Ben and I were ushered to the top of the room and sat at what seemed like a top table for a wedding. We had a lovely dinner with Father Chahali, the Sisters and the trainee nuns. After dinner there was mention of my birthday and then the next minute everyone was leaving the room. I had to stand by the top table whilst everyone re-entered the room in a long procession to “cheer” me a happy birthday. Some more sisters arrived with a large stereo and some dancing then followed before everyone again left the room. A long procession then came into the room, with each person bringing me a flower to add to a large bunch they’d already presented to me. Some more singing and dancing followed and everyone was clearly enjoying themselves.

Finally everyone again left the room and I was particularly surprised by the finale of my birthday celebrations –  the sisters filed into the room with the front lady carrying a huge birthday cake, fully iced with “Happy Birthday Jenny” the cake was still hot as they’d only had a couple of hours to prepare this. I really couldn’t get over the effort they’d made to celebrate my birthday. Father Chahali then insisted that I cut a slice of cake and Ben and I had to feed it to each other in front of everyone. I then cut the cake into 19 slices (they got a lot smaller as I went) in order for everyone to share in the delicious cake I’d been made.

More dancing and singing followed and there was mention that everyone was happy to be joining my birthday Saturday night rather than preparing for church the following morning. Finally we each had to make a speech, all I could really say was thank you, thank you over and over again. Ben who’s had slightly more practice at making speeches did a better job and explained how we’re so lucky to be doing what we’re doing and that over and over it’s the people we meet on the way that make is so special, a point that couldn’t have been more proven on this evening.

Ben – After getting back to the Tarmac it was a long couple of days slog down the “TanZam Highway”.  We’d heard from a few people that this was horrible with dangerous truck drivers, and long 50kph stretches through town and the endless police checks & roadwork’s.  We encountered all of this, but to be honest it was OK, we just took our time.

On March 6th we entered Malawi and breathed a big sigh of relief, it seems so chilled here.  It’s clearly way poorer than where we’ve been recently, few vehicles but lots of bicycles & pedestrians with no shoes.  But the people are so friendly, big smiles and waves, and a keenness to chat (the standard of English here is high).  Just over the border we stopped at Karanga for lunch & a “museum” visit.  The area is famous for its fossils and ancient remains, and particularly for a dinosaur skeleton discovery that is shown in a small but quite interesting museum in this otherwise unremarkable town.  The dinosaur is called the Malawiasaurus, how can you not stop to see that?

From there we headed for a camp on the shores of Lake Malawi before heading up a very steep & twisty road towards the old missionary town of Livingstonia.

ChitimbaBeach_LakeMalawi

ChitimbaBeach_LakeMalawi

We camped up 5km short of the Town, and planned to drive up, over and through it on the way to the Nyika Plateau the following day, but we hadn’t banked on the RAIN.  Overnight it poured, and was still trying in the morning.  We tried to drive up to Livingstonia, the mud on the road was of the African zero-friction variety that means when you try to drive forward, gravity takes control not traction, and you actually just edge sideways towards the big ditches.  We parked up and decided to walk, that was slippy too.  Livingstonia is like a little slice of Britain in Africa, built mainly by early UK missionaries.  The views off the hillside over Lake Malawi were beautiful.

When we returned to the Disco we popped into “Blessings Restaurant” as we had the previous day for lunch.  Charles the owner sorted us Nsima (maize based stodge) & mushrooms which was delicious, but I preferred the Nsima & Beans he produced the day before.  Charles is a lovely man, we chatted for a while and it turned out he was trying to get himself and 2 huge bags of  maize back down the hill to the main road to take it to market, hence good deed no. 2:

We loaded the maize in our 3rd seat, and Charles climbed onto the back bumper and held on tight.  After half an hour of bumping (the road was already nearly dry, it happens so fast), we rounded a corner to find a small Toyota saloon car in the ditch, the 7 grown men who were travelling in it were stood scratching their heads, hence good deed no. 3:

We dug out our towing straps and shackles, attached Disco to Toyota and with remarkable ease dragged the car back onto the dry bit of road in the middle.  Then we carried on for another half hour down to the main road and dropped of Charles and his Maize.

The rain and good deeds had shaken our plans up a lot, so we decided to stop en-route to Nyika in a small town of Rumphi, and we happened across a fantastic camp site run in conjunction with a large orphanage and medical centre called Matunka.  They had the place running sweetly with a good basic restaurant, and small Safari company too. We decided straight away we’d stop here on the way back from Nyika.  As we left the following morning Patrick (the Safari guide) stopped us and said “Are you still going to Nyika?  I have a friend with a small water pump who needs to head to the lodge up there”.  Hence good deed no.4:

We said yes.  The pump turned out to be about 1.5 meters long & weigh about 100kg, but it was accompanied by a very smiley guy called Rasarus, so we strapped the pump on the roof, and Razarus in our 3rd seat, and headed off

Jen: The drive up to the Nyika Plateau was slow, the rain meant we had to take it really steady. We’d climbed up to nearly 2500m although it was a gradual thing. The scenery had changed to something very reminiscent of Wales or Yorkshire with rolling hills, forested areas and lots of greenery, the main difference being the zebras and antelope wandering around. On arrival we managed to get the pump off the roof and then head up to our little campsite and chilled out with zebras grazing just in front of us. Sam and Razarus looked after us at the camp with constantly seeing to the camp fire and ensuring there was always hot water (a very nice treat indeed).

NiykaPlateau

NiykaPlateau

The following morning we decided to rent a couple of mountain bikes and enjoy some of the trails in the park. Rich, Dave, Cathy, Chris, Jon, Darren & Karen you’d all have been thoroughly unimpressed with Ben and my biking skills. The terrain was pretty hilly and we struggled with some of the hills almost immediately, we did try and blame some of our unfitness on the altitude. We battled on for a few hours before heading back, now every time we hit a hill my legs just turned to jelly but the scenery all around was beautiful and it was so so peaceful up there.

Despite wanting to explore the park more the following morning we woke up to a cloud of greyness and the rain looked like it was very set in for the day. We therefore reluctantly decided to head back to Rumphi. From there we stopped off in Mzuzu, a relatively large town for Malawi where we could stock up on some supplies. We’re now in Nkata Bay. Yesterday when we arrived the Lake was a beautiful turquoise colour and the beach just stunning. This morning as Ben has mentioned it’s raining and everything looks a little more grey. From here we’re going to head down to Lake coast and towards Liongwe (Malawi Capital)  before gradually heading towards Mozambique. Fingers crossed the rainy season doesn’t bring too much more rain!

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