08.01.2007, Casa Lisa, Mozambique – Nelspruit, South Africa, 272 km (part 2)
Boy, we were so smooth in Mozambique with the Carnet de Passage and all :-) The South African Border was back to normal business. Waiting in line with the holiday returnees, getting our passports and the carnet stamped and out we were. After a short jog over a large sponge full of soaking liquid (foot and mouth disease prevention) we actually entered South Africa … the country of our final destination! We had actually made it, we had travelled through Africa in a 26-year-old Land Rover and reached South Africa. From here we could push Tembo to Capetown … well, almost …
And though we were exhilarated about our success, we also realized that with every km driven westbound we were leaving behind the Africa we had gotten to know so well and had learned to enjoy. No more street vendors (where will we be getting our cashew nuts and pineapples from? I started worrying immediately), no more busses speeding towards us on twisted chassis like crabs, no more donkeys and children on the road waving and begging. I felt almost like I had left a very good friend behind in Mozambique.
On our way to Nelspruit we were overtaken by very fast cars, there were traffic lights that actually worked, huge signs told us where we were and how far it was to the next destination. Every tiny village had an Engen Petroport, a Wimpy and a Mr. Price furniture shop. Short, we were overwhelmed and our eyes started to tear trying to read all the information on the signs along the road.
The road took us over rolling hills towards Nelspruit, where we were planning to do some serious restocking of our supplies before heading towards the Kruger National Park.
We easily found our campsite and realized that what had started in Mozambique was continued at full force in South Africa. Camping is a serious business and it is nothing to be humoured. The campsites offer everything but lack the atmosphere and personality of our former spots.
After a discussion with the responsible warden, where we were allowed to put our tent “For security purposes madam you should not camp here or here or here …” we started our first excursion into Nelspruit. I had read about the shiny and modern Riverside Mall and wanted to have a look at it. If we are back in civilization then we might as well go for the full enchilada.
We found the mall but – and that is a distinctive characteristic of every mall I know, and I know plenty, trust me – we could not find the entrance to the parking. Driving through a maze of buildings and service alleys Jens was cursing freely trying to twist Tembo’s big bulk around tight corners. Finally we found an entrance to a parking, but it was limited to vehicles with a height of 2 m – Tembo is 2,40m. We couldn’t believe it. After a discussion with a park warden who would have let us in somehow for a small bribe (ah, so we still are in Africa …), we finally managed to find a gate that allowed us to pass and park. By that time we were completely exhausted and suffered from a severe cultural shock.
Anyhow, old instincts kicked in once we were inside the well stocked Pick ‘n Pay supermarket and we managed to get basic supplies and a Vodacom sim card & airtime for our cell phone.
Back at the camp we had huge dinner celebrating our safe arrival to South Africa with some bottles of red wine.
09.01.2007, Nelspruit, 28 km
The day in Nelspruit was spent running necessary errands before we could elope into the wild again.
A second visit to the Riverside Mall (now we knew all the tricks) helped us tick-off groceries, internet café and lunch. We even bought new, clean t-shirts – mine is so nice and clean that I haven’t worn it yet, it would be a pity to spoil it …
In Nelspruit we had our gas refilled at Camp & Gas in Brown Street (S25 28.392 E30 58.491) without any problems and Tembo got his engine oil changed at Corridor Garage (S25 28.416 E30 58.439).
The majority of the white population in Nelspruit are Afrikaner and to me the major characteristic of these people is a very dry sense of humour and matter-of-fact way to handle things … not too much talking, why talk when a nod is enough. We encountered this twice that day. First at the garage where, after having told the mechanic about our trip, his sole reaction was “T’is a long way, jah!” And when he heard that we had not had a single puncture yet, he merely nodded. Usually people go up the walls and ask us a thousand things, this guy just nodded. I liked that. The second encountered with a true Afrikaner was at the petrol station. We had just topped up the tanks and as usual the rear tank started spilling over immediately dripping fresh diesel onto the ground:
Petrol station owner watching the puddle under our car getting bigger, after a while: “What is dripping out of this car?”
Employee, who had just topped up the tanks (happily): “Diesel!”
Petrol station owner (after some minutes of thinking about that in silence): “Well, do the people know that?”
Me (hurriedly): “Yes, thank you, we know it. So sorry about that.”
10.01.2007, Nelspruit – Kruger N.P. (Satara Camp), 232 km
After everything done and with freshly stocked supplies we were glad to leave Nelspruit and the modern life behind us once more. We wanted to spend the next couple of days in the famous Kruger National Park. We did not have a reservation, but we figured that now the main summer holidays were over and we should be able to find accommodation easily.
This was confirmed at the Malelane Gate: just drive up to any camp, we have plenty of space available. After purchasing the “Wildcard” (free access to all South African National Parks for 1 year) we entered the park. Just as I was about to explain to Jens that now, in summer, the vegetation was very dense and that we might not see as many animals as we did in East Africa, Jens discovered two rhinos and later we saw six more. What a piece of luck – these were the only animals we hadn’t see so far.
We decided to stay at the Satara Camp for it is renown for its lions and the rivers around the camp offer sights of leopards and elephant. The camp is huge, but the campsite is quite pleasant and we found a spot directly on the fence to the park.
We enjoyed to be back in the bush, had a big braai and counted shooting stars.
11.01.-12.01.2007, Kruger N.P. (Satara & Maroela Camp), 270 km
We spent 2 full days in Kruger and enjoyed it immensely. The area around the Satara Camp offered us very close encounters with elephants (almost too close for our taste, especially if suddenly your 2nd gear disapears) and during an evening/night drive we completed the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion & leopard).
Compared to the East African national parks, Kruger offers a lot more value for money concerning infrastructure and service. For 24 hrs park & camping we paid in Tarangire NP (Tanzania) 160 USD in Kruger we paid 35 Euros. In Kruger you get shops, petrol and toilets, in Tarangire you get wilderness. We loved exactly that wilderness in East Africa, never really knowing where we were and squatting around a fire, hoping it would keep the lions away – but for 160 USD? In Kruger it is strange to drive on tarmac and see people game watching in tiny 2WDs and it takes the edge of the camping if you are safe behind a fence, but it has its advantages and the prices are more than fair. It is a park for the common visitor, not only for rich Americans and Germans who stay in 400 USD per night lodges.
I was leafing through the Kruger Park brochure and discovered a checklist where one could tick-off all the animals one had managed to see in the park. I was looking for animals with interesting names and found the “red-banded rubber frog”, now what might that fellow look like. I shouted the question at Jens over Tembo’s loud engine and Jens looked at me with his eyebrows raised to the hairline: “there is a red-bandit robber frog?” That would be the addition to the “whistling rat” that my dad turned into a “wrestling rat”. We imagined the “red-bandit robber frog” stepping in front of our car with raised guns: “Right, game’s up. Give up all your insects now or I’ll send up my pal the wrestling rat …!”
The last night we spent at the Maroela Camp and had a hyena walk past our dinner table hugging the fence hoping for left-overs and a pride of lions set up camp just outside the fenced area roaring the entire night. What a beautiful and bone-chilling sound that is – especially up close.
13.01.2007, Kruger N.P. (Maroela Camp) – Blydepoort Dam (Blyde River Canyon), 84 km
After a night with roaring lions around the camp we took a last drive to try to find them, but they were long gone. We left the park through the Orpen Gate heading towards the north-eastern part of the famous and nearby Blyde River Canyon. It was a pleasant and short drive.
We checked into the “Forever Swadini Resort” that is nestled inside the Blyde River Conservation Area at the bottom of the canyon, next to the Blydepoort Dam.
We found a great camping spot underneath a blooming flamboyant tree and were glad that the main summer holidays were over. The few remaining campers with their fortresses of caravans, tents, TVs, microwaves, carpets and quad bikes looked at us disapprovingly … just an old car and a roof tent … tststs. But we showed them! Ever since Nairobi we had not gotten close to a real washing machine. All the washing was done in cold water and by hand. Here at the resort washing machines are available and we washed everything that could be removed from the car. We had to go through 2 cycles for the clothes to get remotely clean. Our camp looked like a detergent commercial.
14.01.2007, Blydepoort Dam (Blyde River Canyon), 15 km
What a luxury to have spent a night in clean sheets, clean clothes and clean sleeping bags. The small joys of a vagabond life …
After a hearty breakfast under our flamboyant tree with a perfect view onto the rocks and hills surrounding the Blyderiver Dam, we decided to go and have a look at the lake and the dam. It is just 5 km from the resort up to small peninsula overlooking the lake.
We had a stroll around the communist-style visitor’s center that was packed with a big and very loud group of beer drinking visitors (at 11 am). As they walked past us on their way to their Mercedes C-Classes they stopped to ask where we were from. We explained and at the end one guy said the inevitable ”You must be VERY rich …”.
This was one of 4 typical reactions to our trip and we were used to them by now:
Option #1: Wow, cool. Which route did you take? (mostly people with equally equipped vehicles)
Option #2: All the way through Africa … and no trouble? Didn’t the people give you a lot of trouble? That is so dangerous! (white South Africans)
Option #3: Why? (anyone, mostly at petrol stations and garages)
Option #4: You must be very, very rich! (Africans)
Doesn’t this show nicely what is the foremost on people’s minds?
We took off on a hiking trail around the peninsula. The trail was easy to walk and offered great views onto the lake. Unfortunately swimming is not recommended due to crocodiles and hippos – it looked so tempting.
Back at the camp some more laundry action was required and the rest of the day was spent cleaning and repacking and lazing. During a short walk along the “Kudu Trail” right next to our campsite I actually encountered and scared off a group of Kudus – beautiful and proud antelopes. How strange to find such wilderness just 5m away from the clean and organized South African camping world.
We braaied again that night, slowly turning into real South Africans :-) (well, apart from being a vegetarian …)
15.01.2007, Blydepoort Dam (Blyde River Canyon) – Three Rondavels (Blyde River Canyon), 178 km
We were getting the hang of the early morning starts and were off before the sun reached our camp. We turned the Land Rover south along the eastern rim of the Blyde River Canyon and then climbed via the Kowyn Pass towards the city of Graskop (famous for its pancakes). The landscape was so different to what we had seen before, it almost looked like Canada or Switzerland.
In Graskop we had some delicious pancakes and yummo coffee at “Harrie’s Pancake Bar”, bought some Macadamia Nuts of a street vendor and headed north – now along the western rim of the canyon. I had been here before with my parents some 17 years ago, but I only remember it dimly and I wanted to see the famous view into the canyon again. We stopped at “God’s Window” and “Bourke’s Luck Potholes” still a bit overwhelmed by all the tourists around us, shouting in perfect Bavarian at each other.
We witnessed a great thunderstorm right next to us in the canyon, but it left us untouched and when we reached the most famous viewpoint the “Three Rondavels” we had a perfect scenery.
We headed for the “Forever Resort Blyderiver” right next to the viewpoint, hoping it would be as nice as the Swadini Resort – alas it wasn’t. At least not for campers. The campsite is dark and far away from any view and just terribly bourgeois.
However, the resort offers the most perfect, beautiful and solitary viewpoint. It is even better than the official viewpoint and there is no one around. We occupied a large rock, enjoyed the view, had a picnic, read a bit, had a G&T and watched the sunset. PERFECT!
Back at the camp we retreated for an early night.
16.01.2007, Three Rondavels (Blyde River Canyon) – Loskop Dam, 299 km
Ugh, what an unpleasant campsite. I did not sleep well that night, but the promise of an early morning breakfast on our solitary view point kept us going quickly. We carried everything to our rock and had a hearty breakfast. The view was just perfect though very different in the bright morning sun from the afternoon before.
Then we were off towards the west happily leaving the “Forever Blyderiver Resort” behind us. Just outside the resort we passed a pretty ugly road accident, with a completely smashed bakkie (pick-up) and dead driver. Another figure to the already terrible South African road statistics. We left the rim of the Blyde River Canyon behind and descended into the low-feld. The drive that day was all in all pretty boring and not really worth mentioning. On the way to the Loskop Dam we passed a sign on the R33 close to Stoffberg “Crime alert! Do not stop your car at any time!”. What, in this peaceful and boring farmer’s country? Boy, this country is in trouble. Of course I had to go to the toilet ever since I saw the sign, but oh no, no stopping.
We reached the Loskop Dam Resort and set up camp right on the lake. Of course swimming is prohibited due to bilharzia, crocodiles and hippos. These big South African camps are still strange to us and we don’t really feel at home. They offer everything, but they lack personality. However the guy who chatted us up just as our stuff on the braai needed to most attention did not lack personality. He was ca. 70, his skin burned to a dark brown leather, all he was wearing was tiny short holding on to a substantial beer belly. He must have had his share of beers and now came over to have a chat about the Landy. Gaargh! So while our food turned to charcoal we listened to his complaints about the modern bakkies. It went partly something like that:
Leather Skin: “I have an Iz … Iz … Izuzu bakkie … <silence> … all the way from … from … from …
Leather Skin: “Rrrright, Japan!”
Leather Skin: “It is sh sh <silence> shit!”
Me: “Right … so?”
Leather Skin: “I need a car like your Land Rover …”
Me: “OK …”
Eventually he staggered off and we had our dinner and were rewarded with a stunning sunset.
17.01.2007, Loskop Dam – Mountain Sanctuary Park (Magaliesberg), 291 km
The cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg were lying ahead of us and we really wanted to get them done and over with. Our car is just way to slow to be caught up in a major crime area. As much as I would have wanted to visit my city of birth and my very first home in Randburg, we just did not dare to, at least not with Tembo. So we hit the N4 close to Middleburg early intending to past Pretoria and Joburg heading towards Rustenberg and the Magaliesberg Nature Reserve.
The N4 was busy and for the first time we felt like being back in Germany with shiny BMWs and MBs racing past us. We both felt a bit tense, the modern highway and the fast cars completely new to us after the past months of rural Africa. Then we passed the first sign stating “Danger! High-jacking hot spot!”. What kind of country is that, where the government invests into such signs?? On our way through Pretoria, we passed many more signs like that. But just behind Pretoria, the N14 became small and sleepy again and after a petrol stop we left the road at the Buffelspoort Exit (close to Rustenberg) to get to the Mountain Sanctuary Park. I had read about it in the January edition of the Go! magazine and it held all it promised. The drive meandered through beautiful landscape and the camp is situated on top of hill. There are natural rock pools and interesting stone formations. Unfortunately it was already a bit late for a hike to one of the rock pools and so we just enjoyed the beautiful pool and the great view from the sundeck onto the valley below.
We had the most delicious pasta al pesto for dinner accompanied by wine. There was a big thunderstorm approaching, but we are experienced campers by now and so we had everything ready when the storm hit our tent, while we huddled inside and drank some more wine.
18.01.2007, Mountain Sanctuary Park (Magaliesberg) – Vryburg, 351 km
Ah, sunshine. How great after a real high-veld summer storm. We had breakfast and than reluctantly hit the road again. We can only highly recommend the Mountain Sanctuary Park, the landscape is stunning and the hikes are supposed to be superb, let alone the pool and sundeck.
The GPS navigated us securely through a maze of small country roads. Only a sign “Danger, high-jacking hot spot in 500m” indicated that we were still quite close to Johannesburg, although hard to imagine. We continued to drive over small country roads the pale blue sky stretching seemingly endlessly to the horizon. What is it about this high-veld skies, that makes them look so different and special. You feel like you are looking straight into the stratosphere. The area is typical conservative Afrikaner farm country (a bit like Texas) and hence quite empty. We stopped at the sleepy town of Lichtenburg to get some supplies and then pressed on along the N14 towards the city of Vryburg. Since we live in Freiburg in Germany and Vryburg means the same in Afrikaans, we had to stop there for the night. We found a nice camp/lodge just outside, the Kamelboom Lodge, and enjoyed a great braai and a starlit sky. At the horizon we saw a comet with a huge tail and since we hadn’t really had any news contact we wondered whether this was going to be the end of the world as we knew it or just a harmless comet (we later learned that it was the “McNaught Comet”). We decided to go for harmless and had a peaceful night.
19.01.2007, Vryburg – Upington, 415 km
This day promised to be a long and hot day and it was a long and hot day, but we didn’t mind since we were on our way to Upington, the gateway to the Kgalagadi N.P.
We got up with the sun, obviously disturbing the weaver birds in the trees next to us – they looked at us very tousled and reluctantly started chirping.
The road is long and straight and we were only slowed down by a large truck transporting an even larger truck to one of the mines near Kuruman, taking up both lanes of the road.
By 2 pm we reached the outskirts of Upington and headed straight for the Pick n Pay Center already well known to us, since we had been here before already twice during former vacations. We stocked up on fresh food and drinks and than headed to “Dros” to celebrate our arrival in Upington. We had made it … dumdididum …
The night we spent at my very hated “Die Eiland” campsite. It was just us, 2 guys with a tent listening to volksmusik and a couple with a caravan, a tiny dog/rat, a parrot, two reclining chairs and a TV … why on earth would someone want to spend more than one night at this campsite??????
20.01.2007, Upington – Kgalagadi N.P. (Twee Rivieren), 295 km
Tadadada, the day had finally come. We are on our way to the Kgalagadi N.P. Jens’s biggest dream is about to come true. Only 255km separate us from the park gate.
After a quick breakfast at the campsite, we were glad to leave “Die Eiland” behind us and headed out of town.
The road to the park is a very lonely, entirely straight stretch with impeccable tarmac (all but the last 70km). Apparently this road is used by (mainly) German OEMs (auto companies) to test drive their new models: there is a huge sign warning that specially authorized cars are allowed to drive up to 250 kph. And sure enough we were overtaken more than once by German cars of all kinds with big stickers saying “government authorized high speed vehicle”. Hm, we should need a sticker saying “government authorized LOW speed vehicle” or “80 … if we are lucky!”. How odd to drive 23.000 km just to see shiny new German cars (some openly, some covered as an “Erlkoeing”) going 250 kph. These cars actually followed us all the way into the park, where a large group of Germans with Mercedes M-Class, ML, GL models and 1 “Erlkoeing” (sporting Boeblingen & Munich licence plates) tackled the park … thinking they were off-road driving … hihihi, as if!
But apart from the odd test drive, there is absolutely no-one on the road. We were surprised to find that the last 50km to the gate are still not tarred. They had started the work in Sep’05 and managed to tar ca. 18km – South Africa is turning into a truly African country …
At Twee Rivieren we checked in (of course the reservation we made on the phone had been cancelled, although the lady had promised that we could pay in the park and not in advance …) without any problems, since the park was pretty empty. We set up camp and waited for the main heat to pass before going on a game drive. However it was still over 40°C and not many animals could be seen. Nevertheless we saw a large male lion and some gemsbok (oryx).
Later we went on an evening/night drive and enjoyed it very much. It is so great not having to drive ourselves for a while but just to lean back and relax. We saw the same lion again, an African wildcat, owls, a genet, a cape fox and best of all we saw 3 porcupines! I had never seen one before and I just love their punk-style looks. Jens always imagines them singing “Anarchy in the Kalahari!”.
21.01.-27.01.2007, Kgalagadi N.P. (Camps: Nossob, Bitterpan, Kalahari Tented Camp, Kieliekrankie), 578 km
Ah, such a bliss: 7 full days in our favourite park! And trust me, we spent them well. We exchanged our tents with the luxury of tented camp accommodation in 3 of the park’s unfenced wilderness camps (Bitterpan, Kalahari Tented Camp and Kieliekrankie). We witnessed great summer storms and took rides through large puddles watching a very confused jackal puppy staring at the water on the road … “now what is that stuff?”.
We saw the large Kalahari lions getting ready for hunt and lazing under trees and observed big breeding herds of springbok and blue wildebeest with freshly born lambs walking past our camp.
We just relaxed and took a vacation from vacation, enjoying to sleep in a normal bed and to be able to get up and walk barefoot to the toilet at night … We had G&Ts on the roof rack watching dramatic sunsets and at night we caught sight of the clearly visible “Mc Naught Comet”.
On the drive to Nossob we stopped at the picnic spot where we had met an Austrian couple and their fully equipped overlanding Landy the last time we had been to the park (Nov’05). We were sooo full of envy that time and now we are here and did it ourselves. Sometime we have to pinch ourselves when we see Tembo standing next to us.
The camp in Nossob was upgraded really nicely and now even sports a pool. While marinating in the pool and reading I got a visit from a curious jackal who also wanted to check out the new pool (when we checked in at Nossob the lady said: “Oh, you have been here before, so you KNOW ABOUT THE JACKAL?” “Er, yes” we replied haltingly). Some jackals live on the campsite seeking shelter form lions and hoping for left-overs from campers.
The biggest challenge and Jens’s biggest dream was to drive with Tembo to our favourite camp Bitterpan. A 54 km long sand track takes you there over endless dunes reserved for residents of Bitterpan only. Ahead of us 3 guys and a girl in a shiny LR Defender went on the track and so we were sure that in case we would get stuck, they would be able to pull us back out. But everything went perfectly fine. Tembo managed every dune, slowly but surely. No turbo-diesel needed to pull us over the dunes :-). What a great feeling to arrive in Bitterpan. We had a great evening with Craig and Paul from Australia and Susan and Ewan from Scotland. After a walk through the saltpan with David (the responsible ranger at the camp and a friend of silence) we had a huge braai/barbie under the starlit sky. Actually the German/German team beat the Aussie/Scottish team concerning the optimum coal distribution and heat …
Paul and Susan live in Capetown and are planning to take their Landy up to Nairobi one day. We were offered red sparkling wine from Capetown and rum from Queensland (Australia) to wash down the braai. Excellent. Thanks a lot guys.
After a luxury stop-over at the Kalahari Tented Camp overlooking the dry river bed of the Auob River, we headed back south and spent 2 more nights at Kieliekrankie, equally luxurious, completely alone, high up on the highest dune of the park, overlooking the vastness of the Kalahari. With some bottles of red wine, we sat on the sundeck hugged by the warm desert night and the sounds of thousands of barking geckos and discussed our return home to Germany … only less than two months away!
28.01.2007, Kgalagadi N.P. (Kieliekrankie) – Upington, 302 km
What a glorious and sad morning. The Kalahari was bathed in early morning sunshine and the view from our terrace was as spectacular as ever. But this was our last morning in the park and hence the end of an event we had anticipated for so long – driving through the Kgalagadi N.P. in our own car. Well, we had done it, Tembo cruising the dunes like a young one. But that is for sure, we will come back and spend more nights under the desert skies.
We said our final good-byes to the dunes and left the park gate at Twee Rivieren. To avoid the atrocious and heavily corrugated road we did it like the locals do and picked our way along sand pads along the road – we almost got the good old Sudan-feeling.
The ride back to Upington passed quickly and we stopped hungrily at “Dros” for a delicious pizza. Yummo!
Reluctant we returned to the “Die Eiland” campsite for the night. There we were greeted by a security guy who warned us about theft going on at the camp. Ha, so my instincts were right to put the money for the park into the safe. That is something we learned on this trip: follow your instincts, if you are able to understand them, that is!
After a chat with my parents my Dad summarized our plans for the next day: “so you will be giving Tembo an oil change in an internet café!” Yep, that is just about right Dad.
29.01.2007, Upington, 28 km
After a theft-free night at “Die Eiland” Resort we still decided to turn our backs to this campsite and spent our last night in Upington in the bush. I just do not like that campsite, I don’t feel safe there and it gives me the creeps … strange. So we were off to work off a long to-do list.
First on the list is the usual treat for Tembo: a change of engine and air filter oil, a new oil filter, a new diesel filter and propshaft and steering joints greased. We found a great garage outside Upington on the R360 (Propshaft & Tune-up) and while the guys were giving Tembo his manicure the owner offered us to leave the car with him, once we are going back to Germany. That would be perfect. So the next time we come to SA, we will pick up the car in Capetown and drive it back up to Upington. The garage owner also mentioned that it should not be a problem to get the Landy registered in South Africa – apparently one does not have to be a resident, one just needs to present a permanent address in SA (e.g. from friends).
It is funny how I have gotten used to spending time in these small town car garages, chatting with the workers and owners, watching black oil dripping out of Tembo. At the beginning of the trip I considered it the biggest nuisance, but now I have understood that this is a ritual and part of the grooming for the car – we need our showers, Tembo needs his oil changes. While they were at it the mechanic saw that the nozzle of the hose connecting to the overflow (engine cooling) was broken (hm, for how long has that been like that?). No problem, the owner quickly welded it back on for no extra charge.
Next we were off to buy a book in Upington … now that is a challenge. I don’t think people in Upington really read a lot and if they do, then in Afrikaans, not English. Luckily we found a small shop that sold books as well as carpets and so I could stock up. Being without a book to read makes me incredibly nervous.
After that we actually found an Internet Café where we could hook up the computer and update our website, for the first time since Nairobi – without any problems.
Then some more food shopping at the Pick n Pay (stocking up for Namibia) and we were off to the Spitskop Game Reserve/ Monate Lodge 13km outside of Upington to spend the night there. A thunderstorm kept hovering right next to us over the plains, but after 6 months of experience with African weather Jens announced that it would not come near us and so we set up camp and had a delicious braai. Later we were joined by two drivers of an “Erlkoeing”, they stayed in a chalet and so we couldn’t get a good look at the car. Rats, I could have sold some of these pictures to German auto mags for sure …
30.01.2007, Upington, South Africa – Ai-Ais, Namibia, 436 km (part 1)
Wow, Jens was right. The thunderstorm disappeared in the east and we had a quiet night. However our alarm clock woke us at 5 am to the first rays of dawn. That was a tough one, but we had some kilometres ahead us today, all the way to the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
But first I had to tackle a different challenge of sorts in form of a HUGE spider that intercepted me in the bathroom (before I had coffee ….). Well, actually these creatures are called “Red Roman” and are no real spider, but a solifugid (whatever that is). However, this knowledge does not help once confronted with them. They are easily as big as the palm of a hand (of a tall grown-up man!) and they have the disquieting habit of racing towards humans, because they seek the shadow of our bodies to escape the sun. All right, well this special piece of solifugid must have been a bit confused, since it was 5.30 am and there was no sun, only the bright neon lights of the bathroom. When I emerged from the toilet cubicle it was sitting right in front of me blocking the way to the exit. As soon as I moved, the creature moved towards me, when I stopped it stopped. Hm, after 5 disturbed minutes of both of us not moving, I dimly realised that I had to outwit it somehow, if wanted to make it to Namibia today … so I started down the aisle with in best soccer style, lifting legs and turning (Zidane, Rolandino & Podolski would have paled in envy) with the soli-thingy right on my heels. I faked a right-turn one last time and disappeared through the door. That was a close one. Happily I accepted the freshly made instant coffee from Jens … but somehow he didn’t really grasp the drama, oh well, men!
With our 6-months-breaking-up-camp-routine we were sitting in Tembo by 6 am, heading west towards the Namibian border. Unfortunately I did not manage to take a picture of the “Erlkoenig” since the drivers were also up and at it again, but I am dead sure it was a Mercedes.
The N10 to Namibia is quite uneventful to say the least – there is absolutely nothing along the way to distract the eye. At the South African border post friendly officers stamped our passports and the Carnet and we were off towards the Namibian border post, 17km down the road. Our last African country before we head to Capetown, a strange sensation!
Summary South Africa:
Country: ah, South Africa. The first country on our trip we had been to before several times and we were looking forward to very much. Reaching it really meant that we had accomplished one goal of our trip. We enjoyed the almost European quality, service and efficiency. However we had to get used to it again slowly. Entering SA and in Nelspruit we almost had a cultural shock, wandering through the shiny malls and packed supermarkets at loss at what to do with all the choice. And there were traffic lights and road signs as big as houses.
Our tour took us to the north-eastern highlights of Kruger N.P. and Blyde River Canyon and then west to the arid Northern Cape and Kalahari. We circled around Pretoria and Joburg not wanting to be caught in a major crime area with a very slow car. All went well, but isn’t there something seriously wrong with a country, when a government actually invests money in road signs stating: “Danger: high-jacking hot-spot!” or “Crime Alert. Do not stop your car at any time!”? Luckily we had no bad situations and only in Upington in the “Die Eiland” campsite did I feel unsafe.
Our highlights were the Kruger N.P., the solitary G&T at the Blyde River Canyon and the Kgalagadi N.P. We just love it there!
Costs: Compared to the past countries of Malawi and Mozambique, South Africa is cheaper or at least offers more value for money, especially for camping. The exchange rate to the Euro was doing us a big favor and so we indulged in a bit of luxury. The liter diesel costs 0,60 Euro and the average cost for a campsite for 1 night and 2 people costs 110 Rand (ca. 11 Euros). Since we spent many nights in national parks, we invested into a “Wildcard” that gives you free access to all SA national parks for 1 year, so one only pays the fee for the campsite once in the park (cost for Wildcard: 1.395 Rand). Without the Wildcard the daily park fee per day and per person is 120 Rand in Kruger and Kgalagadi.
Entry and driving in South Africa is free, however some roads are toll roads (e.g. the N4 from the Moz border to Joburg).
Driving: South Africa leads the world with a deadly road statistic and we did see some terrible accidents. However, we consider driving – in the sense of road safety – better than in the other countries, because there are less really old trucks and busses on the roads. Driving Tembo on main roads (e.g. N4) was a challenge though because we were just sooo much slower than the average South African BMW and so we rather took the smaller country roads – of course they are all tarmac.
Concerning your personal safety: DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT, ever. And in the area of Pretoria and Joburg, check with locals first, if you want to venture there. The high jacking and crime hotspots keep on shifting (and the new signs do not always arrive on time :-)).