A year ago today we got in the cruiser and drove out of the parking lot outside our apartment in southern Stockholm and we returned to the same place, carless and tired about 8 months later. But those 8 months were some of the best months in our lives. That’s something you realize more and more after coming back, as the thousands of memories slowly fall into place, now and then popping to the surface to remind you of something you thought had forgotten.
Despite being very quiet since we got back, the trip is still very much with us, obviously. It’s not like we’ve said cheers and moved on. It’s just that we got back and got really busy straight away, working and sorting out our lives back in Sweden. So we haven’t had a lot of time to wrap up the trip project, the cooperation with our partners is still ongoing, as well as the charity support. And there is still loads more photos to be posted, they are coming, believe it or not!
Looking back at the trip now – or rather looking at the photos from the trip now – it brings out a slight bit of awe, I have to admit. Did we really do that trip? It didn’t take that long after coming back until we had a bit of a distance to the whole thing, after living, breathing and thinking it for about two years. It’s also become clear to me that moving from country to country without a break made me very used to the scenery around me and slightly blind to its beauty – now that I look at the photos I think to myself “wow, have I been to such an exotic place!”
Also, we are very grateful that we decided to avoid driving through Syria as the situation has only deteriorated there, sadly. And we feel very lucky that we managed to breeze through Egypt while that country had a bit of a calm period, as there is turmoil there again now and it might not have been safe to drive through it now.
We recently met with Petri, the documentary film maker, and he showed us some more material that we haven’t seen before which was fun and inspiring (as well as a bit awkward, still not used to watching ourselves!) and we’re looking forward to seeing his full movie when he’s done – but he’s busy just like everyone else so we have to try and be a bit patient. As for my own projects after the trip, with photos and what not, I still haven’t entirely figured out what to make out of it all. My job situation this autumn is also a bit uncertain at the moment, but as soon as I have time I will get going working on the trip material and I’m really excited about it.
So, it’s been a year. It’s a crazy thought. And we’re back exactly where we started. For the nearest future we will remain here and work up some cash again for upcoming projects. Still not sure what the next exciting project will be, but I’ll keep you posted!
Okay so it took me a while to put this post together since it’s been hectic sorting out practical things after our return – and I didn’t have that many questions sent to me (what have you guys been up to, ehrrm!?). But I’ve got a few and have put them together with some other questions we’ve been asked several times by different people during and after the trip. Also, the interview with PickPack was kind of like an FAQ on the trip, so I figured I’ll just translate that and post it here as well for all you English readers, but it will be some repeating for those of you who have already read it…
How much money do you need to do a trip like this?
It totally depends on what kind of trip you want and how long you want to be out for. It depends on if you’re going with sponsors or not. It depends on how much money you’re ready to spend on your vehicle. If you’re planning something similar to our trip – a good car that’s kitted out nicely and an average way of travelling, low budget accommodation and rather spending money on activities – you’re looking at about 300 000 SEK total (vehicle, preparations and trip costs). We definitely felt we could have had more money though. There is always unexpected expenses that you need a buffer for. Towards the end we had to think thrifty but that was mainly due to our own bad planning. Overall, we didn’t feel like we had a low budget – but if we had had more money we could have done more things, it’s as simple as that.
What was it like living together 24/7 in a confined space?
I never thought of Africa as a confined space, but sure… ;) No but seriously, when you’re out travelling you can’t always just go for a walk when your tempers are rising… It wasn’t always easy on our relationship but I think we were hardened by the fact that we are used to spending a lot of time together. It’s probably more difficult for couples who aren’t used to that. You need to know, accept and talk about your characteristics and differences – because they will show. And then you just need to work around them and compromise. Generally it was fine living together in a confined space for such a long time but sometimes we, naturally, were desperate to socialize with other people too. You meet quite a lot of people on your travels, whether it’s the people running the place where you’re staying at, other overlanders or backpackers or just random locals. As for living in a car in general, the longer time you’ve done it, the more you get used to it and we really enjoyed it. It worked really well for us, sleeping in the tent was cozy, cooking was fun, there was always something to do or work on… We really didn’t mind living in a car at all.
Which is the best country you visited?
We don’t like this question much as it’s almost impossible to choose one. All countries have their good sides and bad sides. And Brian usually goes “Am I allowed to say Zimbabwe?”. Needless to say, we had a really good time there, it’s a gorgeous country with lots of fun things to do and it’s nice to see it somewhat recovering slowly. Somebody once asked us to give our Top 3 and that was a little easier. For Brian that was Sudan, Namibia and Jordan. For me it was Jordan, Malawi and Namibia. I think. It’s still a difficult question! We’ve had so many cool experiences in so many amazing places.
Anna looking out over the slopes running down to Lake Malawi.
Were you ever scared or in any dangerous situations?
Very few times. The number of times we were in realistically, potentially dangerous situations can easily be counted: 1. And I wasn’t even there. Brian accidentally ended up in the middle of a shoot-out in South Africa, but luckily he came out of there unharmed, just properly shook up. But the times we (or rather I) have been scared, rationally or not, are obviously a few more. Like when the hyena visited us after dinner in Mana pools. Or when we slept in a small city in South Africa and someone told my brother there were lots of break-ins in cars at night in the area and I ended up bringing an axe into the tent with me… But I still can’t say I was scared very often at all throughout the trip. When you think about it afterwards, there were situations that easily could have changed into something more serious but for one reason or another didn’t. So no, it’s been a pretty safe, smooth and risk free trip. Except for the small detail that we spent almost every day in a car on the roads of Africa… Before the trip I was quite worried about us getting sick or injured. We got away with being food poisoned once each and later getting a cold…
Would you do something like this again?
Definitely. Absolutely. No doubt.
The interview with Pickpack translated from Swedish to English:
Tell us a bit about the background of your trip!
We met in Mozambique, seven years ago, where Brian, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, lived, and where I, Anna, came to work as a volunteer. We have lived here in Sweden since then but visited relatives and friends in southern Africa each year. Early on we discovered that we had a dream in common – to drive through the whole continent of Africa. We decided to try to realize this dream but it took many years before we could finally make the trip. In February 2011, it became official that the project had started and we left Sweden in September 2012, so we had about a year and a half to prepare for the trip. Preparations are hugely important to make a long trip like this stay together all the way. It often involves an enormous amount of work and a lot of stress but is also great fun. It kind of feels like the actual trip becomes a bit of a reward for all the hard work!
How closely have you planned your route before departure? Did you make any major changes to your plans along the way?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to drive down along the eastern side of Africa. Originally, we had hoped to be able to drive “all the way”, through southeastern Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, but as the situation worsened in Syria, we started to look at alternatives. We decided to cross the Mediterranean and had intended heading off directly towards Egypt but the rules and regulations of the ferry company didn’t allow that. We therefore had to ship the car to Israel, but it meant that we could also make a little side trip to Jordan, which we wanted to visit. As for Africa, we simply put a map on the wall and began to draw up different options of routes based on the places we wanted to visit, how other overlanders had done their travels, our budget and schedule.
Along the way, we did one slightly bigger change of route. When we were in Nairobi, Kenya, ready to drive inward the continent and round Lake Victoria, we were told that Uganda recently had new outbreaks of Ebola – a highly lethal virus that is apparently not only contagious by contact but was now airborne – and that unrest in DR Congo affected the security situation in Rwanda. It was not an easy decision to make but we decided to skip Uganda and Rwanda and continue south towards Tanzania.
What kind of paperwork is needed to drive through Africa? What about driving license, visa, insurance and carnet de passage?
Undeniably, it requires a bit of paperwork to drive through this many countries but it also varies a little between regions. Obtaining an international driver’s license to show with the original is of course a first step. For most countries, you can buy a visa when arriving at the border, but some require that you have a visa in your passport in advance. In our case it was Sudan, so we got those visas in Stockholm before the trip, and also Jordan, which we fixed at the embassy in Berlin. Visas for Ethiopia, we also had to get in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. All other countries accepted without problems that we bought a visa on the spot. Some countries don’t even require a visa for us Europeans! It is also important to ensure that you get the insurance (third party) and any other documents required for bringing a vehicle into each country – you can get a fine if you get stopped on the road not having it. But having our car and our stuff insured was out of the question, who would be able to afford the cost of such a high risk insurance … It’s one of the risks you have to take with a trip like this. But of course we had a good travel insurance that would cover any illnesses or accidents.
To travel within Europe and Israel you need an insurance called Green Card. To travel in North Africa, you need a carnet de passage. It’s kind of like a car passport and it’s an assurance both for us and for the country we visit that the car entered but also left the country. Many countries have strict import regulations and this means that you pay a high deposit for your carnet de passage. If the car remains in a country for some reason, that country can charge the issuing organization (in Sweden is the Automobile Association, Motormännen) as compensation for the importation fees. If you come home with all the stamps in the document, you get your money back. In eastern and southern Africa, you don’t need a carnet de passage, you pay for a TIP, temporary import permit, at the border.
Once in southern Africa and Zimbabwe you didn’t entirely take the shortest route to the final destination in Mozambique, but a “slight detour”. What was your thinking behind that?
Zimbabwe was a bit of a milestone on the journey because we wanted to visit relatives and friends and knew that the family would gather there for Christmas. Thanks to hurrying up a bit through Eastern Africa and skipping Uganda and Rwanda we made it there on time and the family was super happy to see us of course. It became a slightly longer break than we planned but we appreciated the break from driving so much. Then we continued west – we also wanted to visit Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. When we put together the route, we decided to start on the east side but then cross over and go around the entire southern Africa to cover all the places we wanted to see. It was definitely a strange feeling standing at the shores of lake Malawi and seeing Mozambique in the distance on the other side, knowing we could be there in a couple of days but that we instead had several countries and months on the road still!
A rough sketch of our route that I put together quickly, a more exact one will come later!
What car did you choose to travel in and what were the requirements for it?
We chose a Toyota Land Cruiser in the 80 series because it is an extraordinarily good and reliable car. Many think that a trip through Africa should be done in an old Land Rover – but then they should also be prepared to work on the car quite a lot, it’s no myth that they often have problems. We chose a slightly older Land Cruiser, which would facilitate finding spare parts if needed and since few workshops in rural Africa are equipped for modern, computerized cars. Workshops and garages are usually pretty few and far between so it’s good to have some mechanic skills yourself. In addition to a powerful engine, the requirements were equipment for off-road driving (extra fuel tank, winch, sand ladders etc) and equipment to live in the car and be “self-sufficient” in periods. We slept in a tent on the roof, had plenty of drinkable water in the tank, food in the fridge, hot water for showers, cooking facilities and so on.
Brian doing car work in Cairo.
Are you satisfied with the car in hindsight?
Absolutely. The Land cruiser was steady as a rock with only minor problems that Brian could fix and only a couple of visits to workshops on the entire trip. The Land Cruiser is an immensely popular car throughout Africa, making it easy to find spare parts if necessary. I’ve lost count on how many times we got the comment, “Well, you’re driving a Land Cruiser, no wonder it’s going so well!”
Did you live in your car at all times? How did it work to have the car as your home?
We stayed in the car everywhere except on rare occasions when there was no camping facilities and in Zimbabwe we stayed with friends and relatives of course. (Although it was really nice to sleep in the tent, it was good to sleep in a bed for a bit!) Living in the car was great – you get used to it and it becomes normal after a while. After the end of the trip, we left the car with Brian’s family in Mozambique and flew home to Sweden and it really wasn’t fun being separated from what had been our home for over half a year! You almost become one with the car, sleeping and eating, reading and talking in it. You quickly learn where everything is and the best way to store your equipment. You learn exactly what the car sounds like and hear immediately if there is something wrong. It sounds silly but it actually feels like there were three of us on the trip, Brian, me, and the Land Cruiser…
Was there a big difference in road conditions in various parts of the trip? Which areas had the best and the worst conditions?
If we include Europe the autobahn tops the list of good roads of course. In Africa several countries had surprisingly good infrastructure – in certain areas. Quite often a wide and smooth road would without warning turn into a road without shoulders and full of deep potholes… Northern Kenya is considered to have the worst stretch of road in Africa. The road itself is in very poor condition and if you have problems with your car, you are at the mercy of what’s in your toolbox and your own hands because there are no villages or towns along the way. Before there was also the risk of encountering road pirates but the region is at least much safer these days. Namibia surprised us with their main national roads being poorly maintained gravel roads, while South Africa as expected had quite alright roads for the most part. The funniest road challenge was Sani Pass, a distance of about 9 kilometers with a climb of about 2,000 metres from the bottom to the top, located in no man’s land between South Africa and Lesotho.
Imagine driving a two-wheel drive small car instead, how much of the trip would have been possible to do in such a car?
It may sound impossible, but the truth is that it is totally do-able to make a trip like this with a “normal” car. We heard that the stretch of road in northern Kenya is the last stretch of non-paved road on the entire route from Cairo to Cape Town but it will likely be paved in a near future and that means there will be a tarmac road to drive on through the whole of Africa.
Brian set out to fish as much as possible on the trip. How did it go? Do you have any good advice on exciting fishing and good fishing spots?
Brian was unable to fish as much as he had hoped to, it turned out to require too much time and money to get to all the places he wanted to go. But yes, he has been fishing a lot still! In the Nile, the lakes of Zimbabwe, in the Okavango river… There are plenty of good fishing spots across Africa, both in freshwater and in the ocean. Deep sea fishing off the Mozambican coast can offer really fun action with fish such as swordfish, yellowfin tuna and blue marlin.
Brian fishing in the Nile with new fishing buddy and friend Rob Roy.
Did you cook most of your food yourselves? Was it otherwise easy to find places to eat along the road?
During the first part of the trip we were probably a bit overwhelmed by all the impressions and had not fully come to grips with how we best kept all the cooking equipment to do it as quickly and smoothly as possible. This meant that we often bought meals and just cooked our own food sometimes. The second half of the journey this all turned around, however. We had found a good system for the equipment and were really inspired to cook more of our own food. Which was good since the money also started running out towards the end… And it was great fun! The thing is that from Kenya and south, we felt more at home in the food culture and grocery stores. In North Africa, we were not as familiar with the ingredients (or the language on the labels!) and it made it a little harder to cook without it becoming quite monotonous. We also wanted to try the local food so that was another reason to eat at local eateries! The further south we got, the easier it was to find good grocery stores and restaurants.
Anna cooking in South Africa.
Photo: Fredrik Hagvärn
Which was the most difficult border crossing?
It’s a tie between Italy-Israel and Egypt-Sudan. To get a car into Israel we knew would mean going through an intense and costly inspection (we didn’t have much choice because we couldn’t go directly to Egypt from Italy) but we had no idea just how hard it would be… Unfortunately, we managed to show up in the middle of autumn’s religious holidays, which meant we had to wait for six days, spending time at hotels and in a friendly family’s apartment with the car locked up in the harbor. Had we known how long it would take, we had of course taken the opportunity to go to Jerusalem for example, but we were constantly told that the inspection might happen the next day. Eventually it was time for the infamous inspection which took eight hours, where Brian unpacked all the equipment out of the car while I ran around with a fixer (who spoke Hebrew but not much English) and sorted out all the paperwork. They demand that you empty the car on every little gadget that is then being x-rayed before they finally x-ray the entire car. With equipment for six months on the road, it took a while to empty it and then pack everything in again. After eight exhausting hours in the heat, we finally got the green light – and they did this thorough inspection without even commenting on our axes and knives, electronic equipment, prescription drugs, or pork that we have forgotten in the fridge… The whole circus cost (including hotel nights etc) over 1 000 USD so we recommend everyone to fly to Israel if they want to visit the country.
There’s only one way to travel between Egypt and Sudan; by boat across Lake Nasser. The roads that cross the border are still not open to foreigners. If you have a vehicle you have to put it on a barge while you yourself go with a passenger ferry. We had heard many horror stories of a barge that sunk or caught fire and wondered indeed if we would ever see our car again. But firstly, we had to make the boat trip happen and here we managed to pinpoint a religious holiday again; Eid. Because of it we had to wait in Aswan in southern Egypt for a week and a half before the ferry business was running again and we could get tickets. When it was time to go, we had all sorts of hassles and we went to the harbor three days in a row, thinking that we would now get to load the car onto the barge, but having to return to the hostel each afternoon. Eventually, the car was on the barge and we rushed to the passenger ferry with some hastily packed belongings for the next few days. The ferry took about a day before we arrived in Wadi Halfa in Sudan, the barge was supposed to show up the next day. Three days and all sorts of phone calls and gray hairs later, we finally saw the barge glide into the harbor… Along with our fellow travelers we felt like eager cows being released into the meadows in spring time when we finally got to head out on the road again!
Which country had the best petrol stations?
Egypt because the diesel cost just over 1 SEK/liter… We could carry nearly 300 liters of diesel in total and in Egypt we didn’t hesitate to fill up full!
Which country surprised you the most on the trip?
Difficult question. I think we had read so many other overlanders blogs and done so much research that we knew what we could expect in most countries, although some countries of course had little surprises for us! I think many people have been a little surprised when we mention Sudan as one of the best experiences – people seem to think that the whole country is a war zone. On the contrary, Sudan was probably one of the quietest areas we drove through… I was surprised by Namibia’s amazing diversity. I knew it was a country where there is plenty to see and do but nevertheless I was in awe with it’s diverse landscape, the wide range of activities and its beauty.
Something that you would do differently if you could do the trip again?
There’s probably quite a lot that we would do differently with the trip in the rearview mirror – while on the whole we are very pleased with our trip. More money had of course meant more time, which in turn would have meant more detours on impulse, more spontaneous meetings with locals, more fishing and a slower pace in general. It didn’t feel like we had to rush, but it definitely felt like we spent many days whizzing through villages and past places where it would have been very exciting to stop.
Last question. It’s impossible to interview someone who has traveled throughout Africa without mentioning animals and nature. How many of the animals in the “Big Five” did you see? What nature experiences do you remember best?
Since we are both animal and nature lovers we feel that some of the wildlife experiences have been some of the highlights of the trip! And with Brian, who grew up in the bush in Zimbabwe, I had my very own safari guide. We spotted four of the big five: elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion, but never got the see a leopard. One memorable experience was when we sat by the car after dinner at the campsite in the national park Mana pools in northern Zimbabwe. There are no fences so the animals can come and go as they please – and they do. I’ve heard about people who turn into jelly when they become afraid but didn’t know what it felt like until a hyena came walking just a few metres away from us in the dark. In a faked calm tone, I informed Brian about this, whereupon he scared it away. Hyenas are much bigger when you have left the safety of your car and is sitting in a camping chair and smell like food…
We have seen a fantastic diversity in nature, from rainforest clad mountains to moon like deserts and from the water lily covered Okavango delta to the tropical waves of the Indian Ocean. One of the places we were surprised and stunned by was the mighty Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia – the world’s second deepest canyon after the Grand Canyon!
The cruiser by Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
Read our first interview, done by the travelling equipment company PickPack on their nice blog! Only in Swedish though… You can also sign up for their newsletter on their website.
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.
Our life during the last 8 months now compressed into the bags in this photo, phew!
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.