I’m calling it the first interview since I know it won’t be the last. In a couple of weeks I’ll be telling our story to the local newspaper back in Växjö where I grew up. And hopefully people will keep showing an interest in our project. As a journalist it’s a bit awkward getting used to being interviewed, but hey, it’s kind of fun at the same time!
So, we’re back in Sweden. We’ve been back for almost two weeks now and I have to say it feels much better than I thought it would. We had been dreading going back simply because it’s always difficult leaving the paradise of Vilanculos and coming back to the mundane every day life in Stockholm. But this time it was different, we have been away for so long and it has been quite tough at times. We have been away long enough to start missing the good things about life in Sweden. Also, normally we return in January, from the tropical heat straight back into a gray, cold winter, but now we timed it perfectly. A long and hard winter had, apparently, had its grip on Sweden for months but had just let go and burst into spring the week before we got home. Stepping off the plane at 7am was a bit chilly but heading back to the apartment we gratefully enjoyed the warmth and sunshine.
As we reached the parking lot outside our apartment building we had another one of those moments… A moment where you realize what you have just done. We were standing in that very parking lot with the Land Cruiser packed and ready saying goodbye to my parents on the 3rd of September last year. Coming back to that exact spot really brought on an emotional moment for a second or two. It was a full circle. We had left, done an amazing journey and now we were back. We did it! We really did do it.
We stepped into the apartment, after a colleague of Brian’s kindly helping us fetch the keys, and it was a little strange coming into a furnished but otherwise empty apartment, knowing that people that we don’t know (in fact have never met!) have lived here while we’ve been gone. But it was such an excitement coming back. Instead of coming home to all our old things, bringing back memories, we came home to a fresh start. It was almost like coming home to a new apartment, but having the comforting feeling of knowing that all our belongings would be put back in. And after 7 months on the road and 8 months of being away in total it was pretty awesome coming home to our own bed, the privacy of your own apartment, cold tap water, no mosquitos and fleas, a grocery store full of goodies around the corner, cooking in your own kitchen, more clothes than what fits in a wooden box in the back of a Land Cruiser and so many other things.
The emotions kept going up and down of course as it was super hard leaving the family in Vilanculos. As much as we now had all those things I just mentioned, there was no little niece laughing and screaming my name for me to come play, no dogs to sleep in our bed, no family members to chat to… But my folks soon came for a visit, mom bringing food to last us for days and dad bringing the huge pile of mail he had been collecting for us, which he went through with us, making it so much easier to catch up with the monthly paper work of life. They were very happy to see us back in one piece and it was such a nice feeling being able to just sit down and have dinner and talk, far from the hectic stressful days and worrying when they were here just before we left in September. We now also met with my nephew Adam and his new born baby brother Rasmus – and I was asked to be his godmother, so that was a very special day in many ways and also a feeling of a beginning of something new.
The first few days I just felt great about being back. That feeling soon turned into something else, however. After the weekend Brian went back to work and I got on the bus to go see the editor at newspaper Expressen where I’m starting work in a few weeks. And suddenly, sitting there on the bus on a familiar route through the city, wearing my old clothes, going back to my old job… I suddenly thought to myself “Did the trip really happen? Did the last 8 months really happen? Or was it all just a dream?” But then I remembered I had a document (the carnet de passage) in my bag with stamps from a quarter of the countries on the African continent. It did happen. It was a scary feeling though and I haven’t been able to shake it since, it all still feels a bit unreal!!
At the same time I have experienced a feeling of tranquility as well. People are talking about their vacation plans, updating their lives on Facebook, mentioning fun things they’re going to do. And I haven’t felt even the slightest bit of envy or wishing it was me, on the contrary I’ve just felt happy about pretty much everything, just very… content. I’m starting to believe the other traveller’s who have told me that life only gets better after the trip. It may take some time but it will only get better and better, they say.
Brian had mixed feelings about coming back and going straight back to work pretty much, knowing that would mean a big change after such a long time away, but at the same time he’s extremely grateful to still have his job! It would have been very hard on us if we got back and he had to start over from scratch. And having spent a few days at work he seems perfectly fine, enjoying being back with the guys he knows have missed having him on the work force. Meanwhile, I had to dive straight into a hectic mess of things that needed sorting out as soon as possible after our return; tax declarations and other paper work mainly. Unfortunately we also realized the workers who renovated our bathroom while we were gone did a crap job, so now we have to deal with that too, which really sucks. We started unpacking all our boxes of things out of the storage almost straight away and mom and dad brought all the stuff they have kept for us, so now this place is slowly starting to look like it used to but two weeks in it still looks a mess and we need to search for things sometimes…
“I miss the cruiser” Brian said yesterday morning. He is really missing having that project to work on in his spare time. I said I’m missing that time when we had the cruiser because there was so much excitement around it, with the trip coming up and everything. I never thought I’d be missing a car but oh yes, you do get attached to them on a trip like this. You try live in your car for 7 months and then see how you feel!
We still don’t know our future plans, all we know is that we will be in Sweden for a while now and work up a bit of money again. Whether we then move to Africa or head out on another trip first, we’ll see… Stay tuned for lots more photos, a map with our exact route and lots more!
Judging by the amount of questions we’ve been hit by during and after the trip, I have a feeling there are a lot of you out there who are curious for more information, things I simply haven’t been able to squeeze into my updates or info pages on the website. Go ahead, hit us with your questions and we’ll answer them!
It can be anything; what we’re going to do with the car now, which was the most difficult border crossing, how much duct tape we ended up using, what we would have done differently… Ask your questions in a comment to this post, send us an email or write them on our Facebook page. I’ll give it a week or so, then I’ll put it all together in a post!
We spent some time in Ballito outside Durban with friends who took us around the area – from the nice beaches to a cinema to a game farm so we were quite spoilt! Our next stop was to pick up Petri, the documentary maker who was gonna join us for the last bit of the trip, in Maputo. We had looked at the map while still down in Jeffrey’s bay on the south coast to try estimate how much time we’d need. We didn’t want to wait until last minute to let him know when to fly down, but give him a couple of weeks at least to be able to look at different flight tickets. Three weeks sounded about right since we wanted to squeeze in the rest of the coast, Sani pass, visiting our friends in Ballito and Swaziland before reaching Maputo. But it turned out everything went smoothly – and quicker than we had estimated – and we ended up in Ballito with almost two weeks to kill! So luckily we could stay with friends there and we had a good time.
I even got to do what I had been longing to do the entire southern part of the trip – go on a horseback safari! It was at a smaller game farm outside of Durban and I did see a few animals – including nyala for the first time! – but other than that I was kept busy trying to control the horse… It was a Lesotho cross, which means it’s a smaller horse with LOTS of energy and stamina. He seemed really calm at first and I thought “cool, this will be a nice and easy ride and I will get to just chill and enjoy the scenery”. What scenery? I thought to myself as we returned to the stables, me on shaky legs from all the adrenalin after a few proper sprints where a canter quickly turned into gallop. It was lots of fun, but not quite the relaxed ride I was after. Having told them I’m an experienced rider they obviously gave me one of the horses that requires some experience. Calaco, the palomino colored Lesotho cross, also proved to be a bit of a leader figure and was the happiest to go in front. “They can be a bit competitive” said Unathi, the guide on a dark brown thoroughbred. So I was a bit surprised when he later came up right next to me and Calaco in a canter, which made Calaco switch into higher gear instantly and took off as if it was a matter of life and death. Next time I will tell them I’m an experienced rider but I want a beginner’s horse. That’s probably the only way to really get to relax and enjoy the wildlife!
We went together with our friends up to Swaziland where they had contacts and treated us to a two day stay at a country club. Brian was keen to do some fishing and although there was clear evidence of lots of fish in the dam he only caught one small tiger fish in the hours we spent out there.
We said goodbye and the short trip north towards the Mocambican border was quite an emotional ride. We were now going for our very last border crossing on this long trip. Was this really it? Was it really almost over? It had all gone by far too quickly. The fun and adventurous – but relatively safe and smooth – trip we had had wasn’t quite in proportion to the year and a half of difficulties and hard work it took to make it happen. It felt like it had almost been too easy. Wasn’t it supposed to be more of a life altering challenge? Sure, we’ve been through several situations, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We figured it’s probably because we’ve been very well prepared. We’ve been prepared for any possible situation and we haven’t taken any unnecessary risks.
The border crossing between Swaziland and Mocambique turned out to be the longest and most difficult in a long while, ironically, not to mention the super expensive visas that must be some of the most expensive in Africa. 80 USD per person for a 30 day visit. Sure, we’ve paid around 50 USD to a lot of countries but coming from the last five countries where you don’t even need a visa… Firstly, their web camera didn’t work so having our photos and fingerprints taken for the visas turned into a lengthy process. Then they didn’t have change. It would have been one thing if it was a matter of 4 USD but it was 40, so we didn’t want to just leave without it. After waiting around for a long time without really knowing what was going on – back in a country where people don’t speak English and our level of Portuguese is quite basic – we were finally allowed to pay with a combination of USD and Rand instead. Then we had to get insurance. And all of a sudden you couldn’t pay in USD anymore, only Meticais or Rand. And we were out of any other cash and there was no exchange bureau at the border… But asking a South African family also crossing the border we were lucky, the father had a bit of cash and was willing to change some USD. Phew!
It’s weird how countries can be so different when they’re right next to each other. From a distance they might seem very similar but taking a closer look you’ll find the little things that differ in culture, language, climate, society, infrastructure and so on. As we started driving into Mocambique I just knew we were back. Everything, the people and the smells and the views, just felt so familiar. And it was good to be back. Then it kind of dawned on me that we had, in fact, driven all the way there. Having been here many times before but always arriving on an airplane reminded me of the journey we had just undertaken to get here.
We went to Maputo where we stayed in a house that belonged to friends of the family for one night, before meeting up with Petri at the airport the next day. He seemed excited to be in southern Africa for the first time. He travelled with a small backpack only so it wasn’t much work to prepare space in the car. We headed out of Maputo and set direction for Chokwe, about 200 km northwest of the capital. We were gonna meet up with some people working together with Swedish Cooperative Centre (Kooperation Utan Gränser), the charity we are supporting. Chokwe was badly affected by the floods in the end of January this year. Still to this day, people haven’t been able to rebuild their houses and can’t grow crops so the needs are great in the area still. It was quite overwhelming to see the miserable conditions under which people were forced to live. You can read all about our visit to Chokwe in another blog post coming up.
Setting off from Chokwe it really felt like we were now on the very last leg of the trip. The sadness that had been the theme for the past few weeks was now quickly replaced with excitement over getting to see the family and everyone in Vilanculos again. We were both so grateful to have all these things to look forward to, which made the end of the trip much easier to handle. Imagine coming to the final destination, having nobody there to greet you, celebrating with a beer at the local pub – and that’s it? Packing up the car to ship it back or try get it sold, booking a flight ticket and just return home. That’s probably the case for most overlanders, but with our background we weren’t just driving through Africa, we had a home to get to. Leaving home, going home.
Our very last camp night was in Maxixe at a nice little campsite right by the sea where Petri kindly treated us to dinner at the restaurant. It felt quite nostalgic crawling into the tent that night, knowing it would be the last time in a very long time.
We woke up to a hot and sunny morning and got ready for the big day. It was about a three hour drive up to Vilanculos and we stopped a few times along the way when Petri wanted to get some specific footage.
Outside Vilanculos we had made a plan with the family for Petri to be picked up so that he could also film our arrival. We met with Brian’s brother in law Kurt in Pambarra, 20 minutes inland from Vilanculos and maybe 10 minutes from where the family lives. Kurt and Petri jumped into the car and told us to wait 30 minutes before leaving. That must have been the longest half an hour of our lives. We just wanted to go! We sat there eating some sandwiches Kurt had brought and listened to some music but eventually we literally started counting the minutes… So we took off and drove the absolute last few kilometers of our long wayawaya trip to Brian’s family’s house. Going in through the gate we saw the family and a few friends waiting in the driveway. I saw Brian’s mom and sister were about to start crying and could feel the tears piling up in my eyes too. But then we got out of the car and everything was just a big blur of hugs and kisses, dogs greeting us, congratulations and champagne being poured all over us… I got this complete blackout and couldn’t for my life understand what all the fuss was about. It seriously felt like I had just pitched up at work on a regular Tuesday morning and all my colleagues were there to celebrate me for no obvious reason…
It was so good to be back, but the emotions were running high and low through us as we also had to come to terms with the fact the our trip was now over. This was it. We were here. With the family in Vilanculos, who had been eagerly (and often nervously) following every kilometer of our trip, just like my family and friends had done back in Sweden. “Congratulations to your first arrival!” my parents wrote in an sms, meaning they will probably only relax fully once we’re back in Sweden again…
We spent that afternoon in the garden with a nice braai and lots of stories from the trip. Slowly we relaxed and after all, it was quite a nice feeling knowing we didn’t have to get up and drive anywhere the next day. Or the day after that… Now we’ve spent a couple of weeks here. Petri has been with us for some time, documenting all the talking about the trip and us emptying the car. It is gonna be so much fun seeing the end result of his filming, but as he has several projects going on it probably won’t happen until much later this year. I’ll try and keep everyone posted about the documentary. Now we will have a good rest and just chill with friends and family here for a bit before it’s back to work in Sweden in a few weeks!
In the emotional roller coaster and busy schedule that has been the theme for the past week I completely forgot to tell my blog readers and only posted the news on Facebook – we are here! We have arrived! We made it!!
We arrived in Vilanculos around lunch time on the 30th of March after almost 7 months on the road and 29 551 km through 24 countries.
I will soon post the last report (from the last bit of South Africa, through Swaziland and into Mocambique) and tell you all about what it was like finally getting here. Plus, we will put together the entire route on a map so you can see exactly how we got here and lots of other fun facts on this amazing trip! So the trip itself might be over now – sadly – but there will still be activity on this blog, so thank you for following us this far and stay tuned for more!
We got to Upington on a Friday and were going to pick my brother Fredrik up from the airport the following day but first we had to try and fix the car properly. The Toyota dealer didn’t have the spares we needed so we headed off trying mechanics and workshops all over Upington until we found the lock nuts. That evening we camped at a nice caravan park by the Oranje river and Brian worked on the wheel bearings while I gave the car a good cleaning and organizing, prepping space for my brother and his gear. I was so excited to go and pick him up the next day. This would be his first time in southern Africa and just like when we were staying with friends in Zim, I felt that it was such a privilege that we were going to get to spend two full weeks together. It’s hard enough getting the family members together even for a weekend at home normally!
My brother arrived and from Upington we headed back up north. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier park was calling since we wanted to take Fredrik for some game viewing and southwestern South Africa doesn’t have any big national parks. Spending the night before entering the park at nice little Kalahari Trails, we had a good braai under the stars. Fredrik, who’s not used to the creepy-crawlies of Africa and not a big fan of snakes and bugs to start with, looked a bit pale when he saw the two scorpions in a box on the reception counter. Since one of his bags was left behind at the airport in London – the one with the tent in it – he asked to have a room for the night and was happy to avoid scorpions and snakes. Luckily, it was only the next morning that André, the manager, told him that the scorpions tend to come into the house… However, we made friends with the tame meerkats Kiri and Casper who live a good life there. ”Are they fully grown? Don’t they get a bit taller?” I asked André. ”Oh, no it’s just that these two are very fat” he replied.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier park really delivered with beautiful lion sightings twice, cheetah sightings twice and lots of gorgeous gemsbok, wildebeest and springbok. We spent two very hot and sweaty days in the car. My brother and I share the passion for photography so he brought a lot of gear and I had someone to talk geeky photography stuff with, so that was lots of fun.
Not having a tent and not having pre-booked any accommodation in the park, Fredrik had to spend one night sleeping on the front of our roof rack under a tarp and a mosquito net. Needless to say, he reminded us in the morning that we needed to go and pick up his lost bag in Upington. We did so the next day before heading south for Springbok.
In the guidebook we read about the Augrabies waterfalls, apparently the 6th tallest falls in the world. Since it was on the way south, we decided to go check them out. Just by chance, we stumbled upon a super nice little backpacker’s near the falls national park, run by young owner Luke. With his laid back attitude and well run place he soon convinced us to spend two nights there. The following morning we took off to see the waterfalls but the sun was excruciating. We walked along the mighty falls before seeking refuge in the car again and took a drive through the neighboring game park. Despite lacking much game it was still a beautiful area but getting caught in a sudden lightning storm we turned back towards the late afternoon. That night we had a good braai together with Luke and played some pool.
From there we drove out towards the coast, where we were planning on spending a couple of days driving along a 4×4 trail. The trail was on Tracks4Africa but also in a leaflet we had gotten with a Getaway magazine in Malawi and we were excited to try one of these trails. Arriving at the coast I was just blown away, almost literally by the strong winds, but mainly by the beauty. A rugged, rocky coastline with huge waves crashing in. It was so much more beautiful than the coast in Namibia for some weird reason – but the water was just as cold…
We spent three days and two nights along this trail, just enjoying the drive and often stopping to take photos or go explore or look at seals or a ship wreck. The first night was at a very windy spot and as soon as the sun set over the sea it got really cold. So when we had eaten nobody felt like sitting around the table chatting. We all hid in the car, watching a movie with the winds roaring around the car outside. The second night we found an even nicer beach and it wasn’t as windy so we enjoyed a brilliant evening, going beach combing, having a braai at sunset and sitting talking before eventually going to bed. The last day we left camp and went around a bend and there was… people. Lots of them. It was a Sunday morning and lots of South Africans living in the region had clearly planned a day by the coast. We were surprised to see any people at all as it had only been us, the seals and the sea gulls up until then. We really appreciated having had the wilderness to ourselves. Those were really special days, definitely a highlight of the trip.
From there we went back inland a bit and the next stop was Stellenbosch to get to see some of the winelands. My brother treated us to a wine tasting and I’ll admit we felt a bit out of place, Brian and I, since the place looked quite posh and we usually don’t spend much time around fancy places. This was the Spier Estate and our guide poured us the wine very professionally. We sat there sipping it, quite unprofessionally, trying to look like we knew what we were doing and couldn’t help but giggle at it all. “Don’t worry about the etiquette, let’s just enjoy the wine!” my brother said. And so we did. As we were about to leave we overheard a guide talking to the people at the next table. They were getting all sorts of instructions and information on what to do. We realized that they had simply told their guide this was their first time at a wine tasting. I don’t know why we didn’t, I guess we thought they’d notice it! So that’s our advice to you all – if you go for a wine tasting for the first time, don’t be shy to say so!
We picked the best sounding campground in Cape Town out of our little guidebook – apparently having a huge space for both vehicles and tents and situated pretty central – and went straight there. We quickly realized it wasn’t quite what it said in the book. At all. We found a former mental hospital somewhat turned into a backpacker’s with a tiny back yard where we just managed to squeeze the cruiser in between a few tents after being let in through the gate. It was quite a contrast coming from the snobby atmosphere of the winelands to the splif smoking slow motion life at the backpacker’s…
The following day we had a full day in Cape Town and wanted to make the best out of it. Going through the activities we’d like to do it was soon narrowed down to two, Robben Island and Table Mountain. But the ferry to Robben Island didn’t have any available tickets until two days later. So the three of us went into Waterfront and spent the morning walking around looking at the boats. In the early afternoon we headed for Table Mountain and quickly got tickets for the cable car that takes you to the top more than 1 000 metres up in five minutes. It was only as we entered the cable car that I realized what I was in for. Was this going to work out with my newly discovered vertigo? I did what I tend to do when I get nervous, I put the camera in front of my face – through the lens I guess the world seems a little less real and scary. Taking photos of the view from the – turning! – cable car I was fine but as soon as we reached the top I realized this wouldn’t work. Brian and Fredrik walked around enjoying the view, accompanied by this funny looking chick, crouching and desperately staring into the ground with a firm grip on one of their arms. When I eventually broke out into tears my brother tried to comfort me. “How do you feel? Well, maybe I shouldn’t ask you that” he said. “Like I’m going to die” I replied without hesitation. “Perfectly rational” he smiled. Brian took me to the gift shop, where I could relax and pretend I wasn’t on top of a mountain, while my brother took another walk around before we finally went back down again, thank goodness. It was extraordinarily beautiful, both going up and the view from the top (what little I saw through my camera lens and I am happy we did go, despite the vertigo issue. (My dad always used to be the only one in the family with vertigo and would always stay on the ground as the rest of us took off doing stuff. I have just recently started having this problem and I guess the only good thing about is that I can say to my dear dad; I know how you feel now!)
Coming down on shaky knees the evening could only get better for me and we did have a good one, enjoying some Mexican food at a great street side restaurant. We spent another night at the tacky backpacker’s and my brother started planning for his trip back home, but there were still some things to do before the end of his visit. Continuing east along the coast the next day we soon reached what is one of the most famous sites for overlanders in Africa – the southernmost point of the continent. Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic meets the Indian ocean. This is where a lot of people, doing the Cape to Cape or Cairo to Cape thing, end their trip. It was a weird feeling knowing that. What would we have felt like if that was the case for us? I couldn’t quite build up the excitement as I knew we still had quite a drive to do before the finishing line, but it was still quite a rush experiencing this place. These two huge oceans meet at this line, it’s a beautiful area and so many people come here just to have their photo taken. So did we. Thanks Fredrik for taking some awesome photos of us and letting me share them here on the blog!
Mossel bay is one of these little cozy coastal towns of southern South Africa and it was our next stop. We decided to camp at the caravan park right by the sea all three of us. As far as we could see we were the only overlanders amongst caravans and motorhomes, flower pots and satellite dishes. But then another cruiser pulled in just opposite to us and turned out to be driven by a really sweet Dutch couple doing a trip around southern Africa and we ended up putting our tables together and having dinner together.
It was soon time for my brother to head back to Sweden but he tried extending the trip as much as possible. We continued east to George, where he hired a rental car and drove back to Cape Town, where he was gonna fly from. After dropping my brother off we drove to Jeffrey’s bay. To our surprise we managed to find a really cool backpacker’s, very different to the others so far – this was a hard rocker’s one! Good music playing, red walls and huge photos of hard rock bands and musicians on the walls.
Driving along the Garden Route I really felt it should have been done with more time and money, the latter quickly running out towards the end of the trip. There was so much to see and do, from beautiful Tsitsikamma national park to visiting rescued wolves (!) and lots more. There are a lot of nice little towns along the coastline as well. But we had to move on and ended up in Hamburg outside East London after another day’s driving. There was apparently a caravan park and we figured that would be cheaper than camping in the city. Arriving at the caravan park we were a bit disappointed, it wasn’t quite worth the price they were charging and seemed quite boring. But we were soon approached by a few people living in the area who were curious about our trip and we ended up having a really good time. We were invited for breakfast the next day by a guy called Wayne so Brian and I decided to take a day to rest. After a lazy breakfast we all went for a swim on the beach and it was so much fun in the big waves. The water was also clearly getting slightly warmer bit by bit as we were moving up the coast. We then followed Alan and Mandy to their house in East London where we had been invited to spend the night. Relieved not having to put the tent up or pay for camping we gratefully accepted. From here on we were planning on continuing north and very conveniently Alan was a former travel guide and had travelled a lot in the region before. He could give us a lot of good advice on where to go and what to do.
Sani pass was another one of those things we knew long beforehand we wanted to do on this trip. It is a very mountainous stretch of road in southeastern South Africa, leading into Lesotho. It’s something a lot of 4×4 lovers want to do, but it’s actually also used by transport traffic. We went through the South African border post and looked up. Somewhere up there in the clouds was our destination, the top of Sani pass and Lesotho. The drive up was nice but it soon started raining so we focused on the road and didn’t see much of the view. The road wasn’t as much of a challenge as we had expected but I have to say I was glad we weren’t there while it was snowy or muddy! Arriving at the top we went through the Lesotho border post, only costing 60 rand for the vehicle, and went to the Sani Mountain Lodge that would also have camping. Watching the clouds climbing over the mountain sides and feeling the temperature drop we soon decided to treat ourselves to a room instead. I’m so happy we did. After chilling at the highest pub in Africa with some other travelers we were going to drive down to the backpacker’s side of the lodge. It was now dark out – and extremely foggy. We couldn’t see much more than a meter outside the car! Now, where was the backpacker’s house? We knew more or less where and we knew it was only about 500 meters away but it still took us more than 30 minutes and a few wrong turns to the neighboring little cottages before we finally found it… Shivering with cold, even with layers of warm clothes on, we cooked dinner in the kitchen that had a temperature so low that we our breaths turned to smoke. I don’t know if I have ever felt so cold in my life. We sat by the fire in the lounge for a bit but it hardly helped. We grabbed our sleeping bags and added them to the duvets and blankets of the beds and finally started feeling a little warmed up after a while, curled up under several layers.
Waking up to a clear morning was quite a relief after the extremely cold, foggy night. We took a walk around the lodge and admired the spectacular view. Standing right by the edge I did get a bit shaky but as soon as I moved away I was fine so this time I could actually enjoy the view. Even Brian admitted to feel a bit nervous when he was sitting on a rock right on the edge. Driving down was much better than going up, it was a beautiful clear day and the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. The drive could have been a bit more of a fun challenge so on the 4×4 side of things it wasn’t the highlight we were hoping for (but I guess it can be during tougher conditions!) but when it comes to the nature experience and the views it was… absolutely remarkable.
Descending the almost three kilometers back down to sea level I felt like I had gotten sunburnt, which I probably had too, but it felt more like I was thawing. It was nice getting to step out of shoes and pants and sweaters and back into slops and shorts as we came closer to Durban on the coast.
Entering Namibia we were just starting to get into the procedure of border crossings again, after the long break in Zim. But down here it’s so easy. Immigration, customs. Stamps, smiles, thank you. Drive to the other side. Immigration, customs. Stamps, smiles, thank you. And then we usually look at each other, smiling with a slight buzz of excitement as we realize we are now in the next country, woohoo! And this region is very nice – neither Botswana nor Namibia has required visas. We won’t need one for South Africa either so next time we’ll have to buy a visa will be in Mocambique.
Divundu was the first town after the border and it was already late afternoon so we decided to try and find a place in the area. We found a pretty cool place, Rainbow river lodge, that had nice campsites right by the Okavango river, decent ablutions, wifi (well, somewhat working), free fishing and a group of overlanders that we could hang out with. We spent two nights there but as Brian didn’t seem to catch anything (fish usually don’t bite during breeding season but he thought it was worth a try), I was too tired from my cold to get much computer work done and the overlanders left, we then moved on.
Coming to Rundu we had quite a few campsites to choose from but wanting to keep the rates down as much as possible we decided to go for the most anonymous looking one. And it was, arriving at Camp Hogo it felt more like we had taken a wrong turn and ended up at somebody’s small farm. But we were wrong, Sarel and his wife (who’s name we unfortunately forgot so we call her Tanny) did indeed run a small campsite and were the sweetest people and we had a good time chatting with them and playing with their dogs. They told us that the river, which was about 20 metres from the main building which was a deck, a bar and then their house, floods every year and the water comes all the way up into the bar. They used to have to move to Rundu for two months every year but now they had raised their house and was hoping to be able to stay there. But as you never know what the water levels are going to be like, they would just have to wait and see.
Our plans to only stay one night soon changed as Brian had a look at the shocks and found that they had once again, on one side, broken through the metal plate above completely. He would have to go into town the next day and make a plan for that, before we could go anywhere. As if that wasn’t enough, we woke up the following morning and saw that we had a flat tyre! My heart sank at the sight of it. That had been one of my biggest fears all along the trip, getting a puncture, since it would be potentially dangerous and also costly, maybe having to buy a new tyre. I was very relieved that the puncture didn’t happen on the road as we were driving, but that the air had gone out slowly over night. But would we have to buy a new tyre or could it be fixed?
Brian figured he would be able to fix the puncture himself, but first it was the shock mounting plate. So he went into town with Sarel who took him around to different mechanics until they had eventually managed to get the metal plate welded back into somewhat what it used to look like. Meanwhile I was writing and prepping blog posts and editing photos. Brian returned and we spent the afternoon there, Brian working on the shocks and I doing laundry. It was then time to fix the puncture. I mixed soapy water and assisted by driving the car back and forth, while he ”washed” the tyre, looking for bubbles to figure out where the hole was. But after me moving the car three times and him using three mugs of soapy water, he eventually gave up with a very confused look on his face. There was no hole to be found anywhere on that bloody tyre. ”Now I’m really confused” he confirmed. He then leant down and just stroked the inside of the rim with a wet hand and – bubbles! It was the rim that had a crack in it – it wasn’t a puncture! As much as we were relieved to have figured this out, we were still confused. Brian had never heard of a steel rim cracking before. But clearly that was the problem this time. The crack didn’t seem to have damaged the rubber at all but air was clearly leaking through it.
The following morning we packed up camp, said goodbye to Sarel and Tanny, who gave us a big bag of just ripened guavas from their tree for the road, and headed into Rundu. Sarel had phoned a mechanic he knew so he was expecting us and it was all done pretty quickly. The guys took the wheel off, removed the tyre, welded the rim and put it all back on again. And they only charged us 50 NAD for it, so we really appreciated that. On the road again! And still no real puncture, touch wood…
Our next stop was Etosha national park. We had decided to do a full day in the park, but drive through it from one gate to another so that we could camp outside the park as camping inside was quite pricy. (Here in Namibia we’ve come across something we haven’t seen anywhere else so far on the trip, that you sometimes have to pay for the campsite AND for the people camping.) I went into the reception to pay our park entry fees and managed to get them down slightly by telling the lady that Brian was a Zimbabwean (there’s often a SADC discount). The entry was 150 NAD for us and the vehicle, cheaper than any park we’d been to so far and I almost wanted to jump over the counter and hug the lady when she gave us our permit. 150 NAD to spend a full day in a national park full of beautiful animals and awesome landscapes – now we’re talking!
Having all the roads on Tracks4Africa on the gps we could easily make our route as we went along, trying to estimate when we would have to start heading for the exit gate so we wouldn’t be too late. We saw numerous nice things, a lioness resting in the shade of a small tree, several elephants and giraffes and lots of gemsbok. We also saw a big herd of what we thought were tsessebees, but could have been red hartebeest. Together with the game viewing, the park obviously also offered beautiful scenery with both bush and salt pans. As we were still in the wet season of the year the park wasn’t its characteristic dusty self as you might see in a lot of photos, but still quite dry since there hasn’t been a lot of rain this season. One great thing was when we drove out to a salt pan view point and parked the car in what felt like the middle of nowhere – unless you turned around and looked at the bush behind you of course. But looking out ahead, there was just this vast pan stretching out as far as we could see. I started walking away from the car and after just a few steps I was almost overwhelmed with the silent intensity of the place. I felt so alone, like I had just landed on another planet. A planet of nothing but grey, salty land and blue skies. Amazing.
We went onto a loop road and thought it was pretty uneventful – until we stopped in a little open space framed by tall bush and Brian all of a sudden swore and looked at something in the bush. Just behind us, by the road we were just about to go down, there was an elephant roaming around in the bush. Far enough for us to get away but we were definitely in its space. It couldn’t be seen easily, as the bush just about covered it completely. We quickly assessed the situation and realised we should probably turn around to have a quick escape route planned in case the elephant charged us. We turned around as quickly as we could and watched the elephant’s every move. It noticed our presence but didn’t seem too worried about it. It made its way out of the bush, across the road and into the bush on the other side. We might be able to go down that road after all, we concluded as the elephant moved on quite quickly. But just as we started rolling down the road, there was another elephant right next to us… And then we spotted several more, just inside the bush. It must have been a group of 10-15 of them, all grazing their way through the thick bush.
Being a horse lover I naturally also like zebras and Brian sighed when I asked him to stop for yet another photo. He had no idea what he was in for. Ahead there was a water hole where you could stop and watch the animals. We have never seen so many zebras in the same place before. There must have been at least 200 of them, some fighting over water, some moving in our out and some standing around sleeping. And as they were standing in the area where you could park, we slowly approached them and as they didn’t seem to care, we parked right next to them. I so wished I could have jumped out and taken a photo of our black and white car amongst all these black and white ”horses”! But I wasn’t allowed to leave the vehicle of course. But it was so awesome just sitting there. This is exactly what I had been longing to do – stopping and watching the drama of nature happen in front of you rather than just snapping a photo of a grazing animal through a car window as you drive past. Here we could sit and and watch everything happening, the fights over water, the mothers looking for their babies, the kudus shyly trying to make their way to the water without getting kicked out. Needless to say, I was shooting away and had hundreds of zebra photos after that.
On our way to the exit gate we made a stop at the Okaukuejo lodge and indulged in some ice cream. We left the park and that night we ended up in a small but well organized campsite in the mountains. That night I tried my first koek sisters, a traditional afrikaans dessert. Brian has been talking about it and I couldn’t deny it, it was quite yummy – but just the sugar rush a dessert should be I guess. It’s basically deep fried bread dough dipped in syrup! That night I woke up freezing and shaking, needless to say a night in the mountainous part of Namibia can be quite chilly – even in summer!
Now it was time to check out the Skeleton coast. All we knew about it was that it got its name from ship wrecks and/or the skeletons of beached whales, apparently.We soon learnt that it wasn’t just a matter of driving to the coast and checking it out, though. According to the guide book it divided into three sections and it seemed the southern most one would be the easiest to access so we headed for Henties bay just north of Swakopmund. Arriving there on a Sunday, the place was pretty dead, to say the least. And what a place… The coast around here is just sand, and not nice, soft desert sand but grey, rough gravel. With the winds coming in from the Atlantic it seems it’s overcast almost every day. And the winds are strong. Add to this tall waves that don’t make swimming appealing at all, and German style architecture making the towns looking a bit out of place and you might have an idea of what a strange place the Skeleton coast is. We quickly left Henties bay and arrived in Swakopmund in the afternoon. As this was also pretty deserted, due to it being Sunday, we just drove around for a quick look and then tried to find somewhere to camp. We phoned around to some of the backpacker places in the town but went for the cheapest option, a caravan park outside town. Not as ”white trash” as it may sound – this was actually a spa hotel with a huge campsite that could easily host 500 caravans in high season. This was difficult to imagine though, as we were almost the only ones there. Strong winds were rolling up from the coast and the other campers, a family with a small car and a tent, and us all sought shelter from the winds by camping behind the ablutions. The typical overcast weather made it feel like it was evening earlier than it was and the whole place was somehow depressing. Freezing from the strong winds we realised there was no plan to try and cook on gas and we weren’t too hungry so with shaky hands and chattering teeth we made some soup with the water we had boiled that morning and put in the Primus flask before quickly hiding in the tent. Yet another cold night in Namibia and we woke up to… the exact same weather. Just a tad brighter than what we saw before going to bed. Yay. How can people live in this? we thought. They say Swedish winters are depressing, but constant overcast must be worse!
In the morning we went to the NWR office in Swakop, as it’s usually called around there, and got some info on the possibilities of driving into the sand dunes and what not. We were given a free permit and told where to go. There was a so called ORV area, Off road Recreational Vehicle area, between Swakop and Walvis bay so we thought we might check that out while driving south. We were also hoping to see some ship wrecks along the way but there weren’t so many, sadly. However, the road was a crazy sight in itself with the desert dunes now coming closer on our left. We decided to go and explore the dunes for a bit. As there were no other vehicles seen around the dunes and not super clearly signposted where you were allowed to go (it’s one thing looking at a map and another looking at the dunes!), we hesitated a bit at first but eventually left the big road and had sand under the tyres. We easily went up one small dune and looked at the next with a slight string of adrenalin shooting through. Should we? We did. And coming up to the top of the dune we soon regretted it. It was steep on the other side. Properly steep. Were we gonna be able to go back? We had a tiny area to turn around in and tall dunes in every direction. We couldn’t see the road or anything else anymore. We quickly ruled out the option of trying a seemingly smaller dune first, in another direction, as you never know what’s on the other side. It could just make the situation worse. It took us three attempts of driving up that dune – with lots of time to picture having to walk back to the road, wave down a vehicle and ask for the rescue of an overland vehicle in the dunes, driven by people who definitely know better but went there anyway – before we finally reached the top. Phew!! We drove halfways down the dune back towards the main road, stopped and had some tea on the tail gate, trying to act as if nothing had happened.
In Walvis bay we drove to the Pelican point, a thin peninsula shooting out from land just south of the city. It turned out to be quite a tough drive past salt factories and through thick sand – and the weather was as always out here depressingly overcast. But as you’ve eventually made it halfways you might as well go and see what’s at the end of it, hey… To our surprise there was a lodge out there when we finally reached the point – a small building next to the light house and it all looked pretty uninhabited (which could just be because it’s low season I guess). And there were lots of seals. Have you ever heard a seal colony chatting? They sound just like cattle! Barking and grunting. They were lying on the beach in big groups and didn’t seem to worry about the presence of our car at all. I thought I’d try walk a bit closer to them to get some better photos, but then they hurriedly crawled away so I didn’t wanna stress them but kept my distance. There were lots of flamingos too.
Being low season, this area of the coast was fairly quiet but there were a lot of cars equipped with fishing rod holders driving around with the rods sticking up in every direction (we called them orcupine cars) and there was the occasional quad bike roaming around in the dunes. That evening some guy was out driving in the dunes just inland of our campsite and Brian stood there watching him for a long time. As I saw the glimmering in this eyes I said to him ”I know we can’t really afford any activities right now but I can see how badly you want to do this, so do it”. I quickly thought to myself that if we can just produce the cash, he could go quad biking and I could go horseback riding. It would only be fair! And that was something I had really wanted to do on this trip.
Brian couldn’t resist the temptation so we headed off to Dune 7 Adventures the next morning. Telling the owner the story of our tight budget and how I would just wait around while Brian went quadbiking, the guy eventually offered me to ride on the guide’s quadbike, which is normally only for kids. Leaving for the dunes I immediately knew it was a good decision – this was a lot of fun, but I would have struggled to drive myself! As the guide said, ”Speed is your friend but speeding is your enemy”. You have to go quite fast and not hesitate to accelerate up the steep dunes, because then you will roll. I probably would have. Both hesitated and rolled, that is. Brian did really well, of course. And he thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just us three on two quad bikes and 45 minutes meant we still got to go quite far into the desert. There were just dunes in every direction and it was very beautiful. Brian and I noticed some really blue dunes at the horizon and thought we were hallucinating. What was that?! As we stopped on top of a tall dune to look at the view we realized we were looking at the rolling clouds coming in from the sea, meeting with warmer air and forming this strange phenomenon that almost looked like a tsunami out of this world. Despite the guide’s several attempts of tracking the highly venomous snakes and spiders living in the desert sand, we didn’t see any and I can’t say I’m too disappointed about that.
Just by heading inland the few kilometers or so by the dunes, the climate was very different to the coast. The typical sun blastering heat of the desert. Namibia has the absolute school book image of a desert. It’s even more deserty here than in the Sahara! (In fact, most deserts in the world are rocky, not sandy, which explains things.) It’s just exactly what you picture when you picture a desert, rolling dunes of golden sand. From Walvis bay we drove in towards Windhoek, but didn’t make it all the way that afternoon. We camped at a deli/farm stall/campsite outside Usakos, which was basic but perfectly fine – and the biltong was freshly cut and tender and yummy for the road the next day. Reaching Windhoek we had already decided to follow the mainstream crowd and stay at Cardboard Box Backpackers as we knew they were cheap. And we weren’t disappointed, for 75 Nad per person, cheap for being Namibia, we got the campsite, free wifi and pancakes and coffee or tea for breakfast! And there was a nice pool, a pool table and lots of nice people to chat to. We straight away bumped into Polish-Australian Kamil, a pilot whom we had met in Maun, Botswana. It was fun seeing him again and we spent a lot of time together chatting over a couple of beers. We spent a few days at this place, needing the break from the roads, doing lots of online work and enjoying the atmosphere. We were also waiting for a decision from my brother, who might be coming down to join us for a short while and as he might be coming to Windhoek we weren’t sure if we should stay or go. My brother had been saying already during our preparations that he’d love to join us in the car for a couple of weeks or so, as he’s never been to southern Africa and riding with us would be a fun way of getting to experience it. He wanted to come and visit in Zimbabwe, Botswana or Namibia to get the proper bush and safari part of the trip. However, due to different things he was very delayed. But eventually we got a decision from him. He was gonna come down! I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. But he would only make it to South Africa so we left Windhoek.
Sossusvlei are those famous, red dunes in southern Namibia that I’m sure all of you have seen in photos at least once. I had high hopes for this place, having seen loads of beautiful photos from there. It was definitely a must-go in Namibia for both of us. We camped at the NWR campsite in Sesriem, which is right by the gates to the Sossusvlei area. As we arrived in the late afternoon, we still had some hours of sunlight and wanted to get some sunset photos so we headed in through the gate without even looking at the campsite first. Brian had done some reading online and had found out that there are different ways of experiencing the dunes. While the park staff will tell you to climb Dune 45 at sunrise and watch the sunset from the dunes around Dead vlei, a lot of people in online forums were recommending the opposite. And this is always tricky for us overlanders. We don’t have much time, usually only a day or so, when on a tight budget like we are. Do we trust the park staff, who should know what they’re talking about, or the people that have been there and experienced it? We decided to go for the latter and not having enough time to drive all the way to Dune 45 by sunset that evening, we ended up just driving around the nearest area, enjoying the sunset over the mountainous landscape with springbok and gemsbok roaming around.
Back at camp we made spagetti bolognese for dinner and went to bed early, setting the alarm for 5 o’clock. The gate would open at 5.45, about an hour before sunrise, and we wanted to be there then. It wasn’t too hard waking up in the dark, we were both excited to go and couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit of a race. We were not alone at the campsite and packing up camp we kept an eye on the other vehicles. After packing up the tent and quickly boiling some water for tea and coffee on the small Primus stove we drove off and were hoping to be the first ones by the gate, but were third in line. Heading into the park we kept in line as a long convoy and we were curious to see what the others were planning on doing, Dune 45 or Dead vlei? Most people seemed to follow the advice of the park staff and we continued down to Sossusvlei, arriving there about 45 minutes later as the sky was now just getting brighter but the sun was still below the horizon. Although we were now alone, it still felt like a race against time – were we gonna make it to the dunes by sunrise? It was still a 20 minute walk. We quickly grabbed the gps, the cameras and a water bottle and headed off on foot. I don’t know if you have ever tried walking in thick, soft sand when you’re in a hurry, but I honestly hate it. Especially before 7 o’clock in the morning. Tired, frustrated and hungry I struggled up those dunes, following in Brian’s foot steps, with the heavy camera bag over my shoulder. My only relief was that it was still cool, that early in the morning. We reached the Dead Vlei and noticed a bunch of people on a taller dune, called Big Daddy, who must have been there even earlier to admire the view. But I was quite happy being down in the Dead Vlei, ready with my camera for when the sun would just come over the rim of the dunes and give the dunes around us that magical, red glow that I had seen in all the photos. We waited, and waited. Nothing happened. No magic. Looking up behind us we realized the problem. Clouds. Crap. We just looked at each other, realizing we had worked our butts off all morning to get here, only to be met by clouds. And then a few ice cold little rain drops started to fall. It was so ironic. There we were, on our one day in Sossusvlei during our 6 month trip through Africa – and it was raining in the bloody desert. Great.
But we waited around and the clouds soon started moving away and the dunes with the dead trees in the vleis were still a pretty awesome sight. The other people came down the dune but the place was big enough to make us feel like we almost had it to ourselves and we spent more than two hours in there walking around, taking photos and filming, before walking back to the car.
Lüderitz was our next stop, a town right by the coast, where we were planning on visiting Kolmanskop, a small village that was abandoned in the 1920’s. But on the way back towards the coast we made a stop on the Garub plains, where we knew we might be able to spot some wild horses. That’s right, wild horses. There are a lot of different theories on where these horses came from but there are about 150 of them roaming free in the area since quite some time back. These days the area is also protected and the government has realised the value of the wild horses as a tourist attraction so when there is a drought, the horses are being fed supplementary food. There is also a water hole and a shaded viewpoint nearby, where tourists can watch the horses as they come to drink.
As a horse lover, spending lots of my spare time at the stables, this was obviously irresistable to me. My shoulders sank as all I saw by the waterhole was a few ostriches, a couple of gemsbok and two jackals. Would I not get to see any of the wild horses? I was a bit surprised at my reaction – normally wildlife like the beautiful gemsbok would get my full attention and plenty of exposures on the memory cards, but now I just looked at them and sighed. All I was interested in now was the horses. We waited around for a bit and it was quite entertaining studying the communication between the animals around the water. In the binoculars we suddenly started spotting small dots at a far distance. They must be horses! But it was really far away by the mountains by the horizon. But then… ”There are a few coming our way now” Brian said, as he was looking through the binos. Yay! And sure enough, a few small groups of wild horses graced us with their presence that evening. I was shooting away, but sad to realize the viewpoint was just too far away from the waterhole for me to get any really nice portraits of the horses even with my telephoto lens. I was happy to see that Brian was also enjoying watching the horses and the interaction between them as the water created joy, playfulness, territorial rivalry and ”ranking” between them. Eventually we concluded that we had to make a plan. I desperately wanted to return to the horses again. So we decided we would continue to Lüderitz, spend the night there, visit Kolmanskop in the morning and then spend the afternoon with the horses as we were anyway coming back east again. I could hardly wait to go back – what photos might I get in the daylight? Would they be there during the day? Did they have other water sources out in the plains? Would I be able to get closer to them?
Kolmanskop is this deserted town where the sand dunes had moved through the houses over the years. What a photo opportunity! Adiel, our friend in Zimbabwe, had recommended this place to us and we’re really happy she did as it only had a short paragraph in the guide book and we might have missed it otherwise. Brian was laughing at me as I started jumping in my car seat as we drove in, the camera in my hands already. The only problem was that we didn’t know there were guided 45 minute tours at certain hours during the morning and we were now 30 minutes late for the last one that day. Luckily we were allowed to also walk around on our own, but we were only gonna have an hour and a half before they were going to close. I could hardly focus on what the guide was saying as we joined the tour, my trigger finger was too itchy to start exploring the town. As soon as the guide said the tour was finished, I rushed out of the room (which was in a less interesting building) and Brian just shook his head smiling and followed me out, but he was also really excited to explore this ghost town. We spent the next hour and a half walking around from house to house, looking at the sand filled rooms, checking out the few pieces of interior left in there. It was such a bizarre sight and so beautiful in a way. How nature takes over when the humans leave.
Back at the viewpoint by the wild horses’ waterhole I excitedly noticed some of them were already there drinking, and it was other ones than the evening before. We stood at the viewpoint for a while watching them but then I decided to try and move closer. I slowly worked my way down from the viewpoint towards the waterhole, keeping an eye on both horses and gemsbok. The ostriches started running away, wings held high, as I approached them, and the gemsbok were watching me suspiciously but luckily the horses didn’t seem to mind. I kept walking, slowly in a zigzag pattern not looking straight at them, to try and communicate my peaceful intentions. As I had come halfways from the viewpoint I decided it would have to be enough so I sat down. From there I had a much better view, more on the same level as the horses. Brian was my scout, surveying the area. About 100 metres behind the waterhole there was a hill and it was impossible for me to see what was behind there, but Brian could signal to me whether there were more horses on their way in. Except for one gemsbok getting a little too curious about me (I don’t quite like the idea of their horns piercing straight through me) I felt perfectly fine sitting there and I must have been out there in the blasting sun for quite a while as the different groups of horses would come and go. Eventually I had to walk back up to Brian to get something to drink, some shade and grab the rest of my memory cards, but I had a wide grin on my face. I went back down a few more times and it was so much fun seeing them slowly getting used to having me sitting there and getting to watch their behavior. A couple of tourists stopped by at the viewpoint at one stage. They didn’t stay for very long though. They must have thought I was crazy.
Eventually I reluctantly surrendered when Brian suggested we’d leave. We spent that night at Klein Aus Vista, outside the small town of Aus, a campsite set in beautiful surroundings in the mountains. We immediately started a fire but it still took a couple of hours before the potatoes, carrots, spinach and steaks could be eaten and by that stage I was freezing with heat stroke, wearing both my Tierra fleece and my shell jacket while Brian was sitting their in his t-shirt. The next morning we set direction for the Fish River Canyon. This was a place we had only heard about once we came to Namibia – and it is the second largest canyon in the world after Grand Canyon in the USA! I can’t believe we hadn’t heard more about it before. We decided to check out the canyon from the northern part of the national park and then drive down to the hot spring in the southern part. Coming in during the afternoon we started off by driving along the canyon, checking the view from viewpoint after viewpoint. Stunned by the almost surreal landscape we were also happy to have the place completely to ourselves. We agreed that it would have been very cool to do the famous hiking trail, a guided five day hike where you get to see the canyon from the bottom. (This is only done between April and September though, because of the risk of flash floods during the rainy season.) We threw rocks into the canyon and wrote our names on a rock that we placed on the slopes. As I was about to take a photo of Brian he said “Watch out, there’s a big scorpion behind you” so I jumped high in the air and was happy I wasn’t closer to the edge at the time…
As we made it to the main viewpoint we weren’t alone anymore as there were three overland trucks coming in. They had obviously planned to enjoy the main viewpoint by sunset, just like us. We had to wait for the sun to start setting for quite a while but once it did, it was as always in Africa, very fast. The mountains didn’t quite turn red and glowy as I had been hoping for, but it was still beautiful. We then headed back to the campsite in Hobas.
The overland trucks were camping in the same place so there were plenty of people and we had tents right next to the cruiser. But as Brian bumped into one of the overlanders we were invited to join them around the fire so that was really nice, we met some interesting people that night. As their guide and cook, TJ, apparently always makes too much food, they pretty much ordered us to have some or collect some leftovers, so I went and got an empty tub and filled it – perfect for lunch for us the next day! Very appreciated.
The overland trucks usually have terribly early mornings so they were all gone by the time we woke up (thanks for the book you left on our chairs, whoever you are!). We didn’t have to stress as it was only about 70 km down to Ai-Ais. The road was gravel – as is normal all over Namibia – but pretty alright most of the way and through some gorgeous mountainous landscapes. We reached Ai-Ais by lunch time, not really knowing much about it other than that there would be a hot spring. As we had just paid for camping and had lunch, another overlander vehicle pulled in and it was two Australian friends, Ben and Natalie, that we had bumped into at Kolmanskop. In fact, they had approached us there and told us they had already seen our cruiser in Etosha and in Sossusvlei! So this was now the fourth time we were in the same place in Namibia. We spent the afternoon together, mostly chilling in the swimming pool which was heated by the hot spring. The hot spring was 60 degrees, the pool only 45…! It wasn’t refreshing going into the water in the heat, but it was surprisingly refreshing coming out of there. Ben and Natalie left for Hobas as they were doing the canyon route the opposite way to us and we parked in a campsite.
The following morning was the first and probably the only time during the trip that I was quite frustrated there was no cold water in the showers. Getting up at 7 it was already pretty hot out and I wanted to have a cold shower to keep cool in the car as we’d travel, but it turned out the cold water was probably the same temperature as the swimming pool. We left Ai-Ais planning on heading for the South African border and camp around there. But as we just left a tiny little town, with about 150 km to go to the border still, we started hearing some very weird noises from the car. Brian turned into a lay-by and after a quick check-up he summarized the situation, not being quite the communicator that I am, with ”We’re gonna be here for a while.” Oh. Okay. It turned out the wheel bearings in the front right wheel had collapsed and we had simply not heard the noises from it earlier since Namibia has so many corrugated gravel roads. It was only now that we came back onto tar that we realised we had a big problem. Brian started dismounting the tyre and taking apart the wheel bearings by the side of the road. It could have been a fairly easy fix, just a matter of tightening them as he had done earlier on the trip, but this time it was completely screwed up. He couldn’t get the nuts back on the threads. We were far from anywhere that might sell the spares we needed and we were now stranded in a lay-by outside a tiny town in Namibia. It was our first official breakdown.
It was Thursday afternoon and we were only picking my brother up on Saturday in Upington in South Africa so we had some time, but the question now was what to do with the car and how to get it fixed. Without being able to put the lock nut back on we couldn’t go anywhere, even slowly creeping to the nearest mechanic, if there was one in town. We were stuck on that lay-by. Where we gonna have to leave the car there and hitch hike into town? And what if there was no one there to help? Brian kept working on the threads and I made us sandwiches and assisted in any way I could. The hours went by. Around 17.00 sometime a car pulled in and the man said ”You guys must be having a very bad day because I saw you here earlier today and you are still here”. He was very helpful and went into town to check if anyone could help us fix the threads but without any luck. As it was now getting closer to sunset, we were really trying to figure out what to do. But Brian kept working tirelessly on the threads and called his dad for some advice. Eventually they agreed that one option could be to borrow a lock nut from the other tyre so that there would only be one on each side. And then, finally, the lock nut went onto the threads. After I don’t know how many tries, and grinding bit by bit to make it fit. We sighed with relief, now we would at least be able to keep driving carefully until we reached a proper mechanic. But by the time Brian had finished up and put the tyre back on, after working on it non-stop for 8,5 hours, it was now around 22.00 in the evening. And we were in an area far from the tourist activities so there were no campsites or b&b’s as far as we could see. We had asked the helpful man if he thought it would be safe to sleep in the lay-by and he said he could tell the police in town that we were there and that they could patrol the area a bit extra. But then we thought, maybe we can sleep by the border? They will have security guards there and they might let us sleep in the parking lot or something. So we decided to move on but did 60 km/h on a 120 km/h all the way. As we reached Ariamsvlei we stopped at an open fuel station and filled up and found out the border was open 24/7. So then we thought, now that we’ve come this far, we might as well go to South Africa. We reached the border just before midnight and this border crossing was a bit weird since it was 17 km between the borders so we left Namibia one day and entered South Africa the next… Driving through from one side to the other I realised how tired we were as we started singing Fur Elise in bird voices. As the paper work was done we asked if there was anywhere we could sleep and they said we could sleep just outside the gates where the big trucks park. So we joined the trucks and parked by the side of the road, put the tent up, had a cup of tea to try and normalize the situation a bit, brushed our teeths and crashed in bed.
Although Brian spent five years at Plumtree, right by the border, he has actually never been to Botswana before and neither have I. We were both looking forward to it, except we knew it’s pretty expensive to travel there. Our first stop was Francistown, just on the other side of the border. We searched the gps for a campsite and found a place called River Lodge and they apparently offered camping too. It seemed quite fancy (we were taken in a golf cart from the reception to be shown the campsite on the other side of the premises!) and sure enough it turned out to meet our expectations of Botswana, being a bit pricy. Long gone are the 5 USD per person camp sites in this region as we were used to from eastern Africa…
One night and filling up with fuel and doing some grocery shopping in Francistown, then we headed west. We wanted to visit the Makgadikgadi salt pan and drove to Gweta where we spent one night at Planet Baobab. It was a cool, slightly quirky and different place. We had some time in the late afternoon so we enjoyed a dip in the big swimming pool before starting up a fire and having a braai with steaks, boiled sweet potatoes and roasted butternut, carrots and onions.
From Gweta we headed off towards the pans but had done zero research beforehand and had no idea what to expect. All we knew is that we were in the rainy season and that the salt pans would be a little greener than usual. The gate to the Nxai pan (yes, it has a click sound in it!) came before the Makgadikgadi so we decided to turn in there and speak to the park staff to find out some more info and then maybe go to Makgadikgadi after. But it was already late morning so we got a bit stressed realizing how big these parks are and how little time we had left that day. The guy at the gate office told us Nxai is better than Makgadikgadi and we decided to take his word for it. We thought about camping inside but the camp was privately owned and they charged something ridiculous like 270 pula per person per night. To sleep in your own tent! After complaining a bit to the poor guy at the desk – who obviously didn’t have anything to do with their rates – he eventually sighed and offered us to camp in the parking lot next to the office. We thanked him and said we’d come back to the gate by the time the park closed.
Heading into the park it was just vast bush land in all direction and we quickly realized we wouldn’t get to see much wildlife as the grass was tall. It was simply the wrong season if you wanted to get the “real” experience of the park. But soon we were pleasantly surprised when we started spotting quite a few gorgeous gemsbok (also known as oryx), which neither of us has seen before. They’re truly one of the most beautiful antelopes if you ask me.
We headed towards the pan area to see a place called Baines baobabs. Not knowing much beforehand we had no idea who this Baines might be but figured it must be some special baobabs worth seeing. And sure enough, as we entered the pan we could see some major sized baobabs on a little green island in the middle of the salty gray flatland. But how would we get there? We tried to follow the most recent tracks we could see on the ground ahead but ended up driving around in the pan quite a bit, reluctant to just cross the open areas as there was water and mud, and rather stay around the edges where we had a good grip. Eventually we had to make a run for it and go across. Was this going to be the first time we got stuck during the trip? And would there be anyone there to pull us out in that case? Most likely not. We’d have to dig ourselves out and it could get messy, with the merciless sun as well. But we made it across with just a few skids in the mud and eventually reached the Baines baobab island. Just to find another overlander vehicle parked just beneath the trees. ”Why did you come from that side?” they asked surprised and we realized we should have gone the other way around, which was much easier. We were invited to have coffee with this nice Austrian couple who had rented the car in Johannesburg and was now touring Botswana for a month. It turned out Baines was a guy called Thomas who had painted the baobabs during a long expedition on foot in 1862. The trees are believed to be around 3 000 years old.
It’s amazing how just some simple facts can make you feel quite enlightened and having learnt about Baines we took off to see some more of the park. We had told the Austrian couple that we hadn’t seen so much wildlife yet but that was about to change. As we came around a bend on the island we spotted two elephants pretty far away. Then one showed up maybe 100 metres away. Then another turned up in the bush maybe 50 metres away. After that we just saw elephants everywhere it seemed as we continued driving. A bit tired from the sun and the heat we soon set direction back towards the gate. Arriving there between 3 and 4 in the afternoon we figured we didn’t have to spend the night in a car park but could push on for Maun, our next stop about 1,5 hours away. So we said cheers to the guy at the office, pumped up the tyres again and went.
Maun is a bit of a tourist hub for people wanting to go to the Okavango delta or the Kalahari. In the Lonely planet book we found a place desribed as a bit of a party place where backpackers, bush pilots and locals mix. As it was Friday we thought it could be fun to meet some people so we headed for this place, Old bridge backpackers. And boy, was the guide book right. Surveying the crowd in the bar and chatting to some people we had soon met some travellers, some locals and a couple of pilots who had just arrived looking for a job in Maun. Oh, and they were right about the partying too. It didn’t take long before the locals had taken us under their wing and challenged us to games of pool. The place reminded us a lot of Smuggler’s, our old favourite place in Vilanculos, so we felt quite at home.
We had a nice little campsite and as always when we spend more than one night somewhere, it was so nice not having to pack up camp everyday to drive somewhere. We did the whole thing, table and chairs, the big Primus stove out and even the awning to get some shade. Unfortunately I started getting a cold so I was quite tired for the rest of the weekend. We had been thinking about going on a mokoro trip in the delta (dugout canoe) but hesitated when we saw the prices (sorry I keep mentioning about prices and money all the time, but that’s a big part of a trip like this, especially towards the end of it). We figured we might be able to do it cheaper somewhere less touristy. So we just chilled over the weekend as I tried curing my cold. There was wifi but only by buying vouchers and trying some just to do some necessary emails I realized it was quite expensive, so no blogging at that stage – plus my head was heavy and groggy and pretty worthless at the time.
We then drove around the Okavango delta and up to western side of it. Again, we had done very little research and made the mistake of heading for a campsite without checking our options. As we turned off the main road it was another 20 km through the bush, crossing rivers and everything. As we finally got there it turned out to be a fairly posh bush camp with safari tents on stilts in the delta. The campsite wasn’t anything special though, on the contrary, so we regretted not having looked at some options as the managing lady charged us the highest prices so far in Botswana. Having come all the way out there we didn’t quite feel like working our way back through the bush that evening.
The following morning we went out on a mokoro trip but decided to only do a half day. I had a terrible runny nose and wasn’t looking forward to sitting in the sun but at the same time I was really excited to do something completely different to everything else on the trip so far. Petzi, our guide, started by pointing out that a mokoro capsizes easily. Ok cool, thanks for letting us know, considering the amounts of hippos and crocs in the water. I made sure to sit dead still as he pushed us out and we were gliding through the water. It sure was quite wobbly but I soon got used to it and relaxed. And that’s when I realized how nice it was. Gliding silently past water lilies and reeds, listening to fish eagles crying around us.
And I realized it wasn’t so different from the gondola trip we had done in Venice! Except a bit different after all. No crocodiles in Italy as far as I know. And the surroundings a bit different too, of course. And the boat, from the massive gondola with painted ornaments and velvet seats to a narrow carbon fibre canoe with plastic chairs. But still! For once I was very relieved we didn’t see any bigger wildlife. The idea of pushing the mokoro over to keep it between us and an agitated hippo, treading water with crocs lurking around, didn’t appeal to me. Petzi did a great job guiding, clearly knowing everything worth knowing about every bird species in the area and most plants too, characteristic to the delta. All in all it was a very cool experience.