14th Feb – 21st February

We had another super speedy border check in/out and entered Namibia at the western end of the Caprivi Strip.  I was busy scooting along the gravel road at about 100kph when I noticed something on the road ahead.  Elephants! I hadn’t realised we were in a game reserve….

Namibian road hazards

Namibian road hazards

The second thing we noticed about Namibia is that the Romans heavily influenced their road building techniques, and the Victorians their cattle herding.  The roads are dead straight and the cows, instead of wandering about willy-nilly and getting run over, have to be attended by a man with a red flag, or in one instance a warning triangle.  Not sure the Victorian AA insisted on those.

We decided to make a longish drive and head for Grootfontein.  Which turned out to be an absolute hole.  Foolishly I had expectations, and naturally they were cruelly dashed.  Although it’s a largeish dot on the map Grootfontein was totally shut on a Saturday afternoon, the tidy streets were deserted apart from some glue-sniffing kids, (the first we’ve seen in the whole six months).  The whole place had a kind of abandoned, desperate air about it.  I’ve no idea where everyone was, as there didn’t seem to be anywhere for them to go.

Your partner in hard times - cheerful marketing

Your partner in tough times - cheerful marketing

We headed a few k’s back out of town to Die Kraal Steakhouse and Campsite, where the chatty, helpful owner was the first person I’ve heard refer to black Africans as Kaffirs. There was nowhere else to go.  As soon as the sun went down I started feeling really feverish so went to bed while Sean had a romantic Valentine Kudu steak all on his own.

As I woke up feeling OK we stuck to our plans and made it to Etosha National Park by early afternoon on Sunday and checked into Namutoni Camp, which is based around a restored German fort.  Etosha is an amazing place; at its centre is the enormous pan which in the rainy season becomes a vast shallow expanse of water which reflects the huge sky.  The sense of space is extraordinary. 

Big Etosha skies

Big Etosha skies

The rains have turned the roads into chalky sludge and very soon Elsie looked like she’d had a very bad all over respray.

In the evening I started to feel rough again so Sean cooked and we ate listening to a lion which we could just hear over the racket from a budget safari group camping next door.

In spite of my feeling poorly the SF was unrelenting, and the next morning he had us waiting at the camp gates 10 minutes before they opened! 

Two Bulls.  It's a private joke....

Two Bulls. It's a private joke....

After the usual extensive morning game drive I did insist on some respite and was even allowed to enjoy an afternoon swim before we set off again.  Sat by a waterhole late in the afternoon we could hear a lion nearby but time was pressing on and we had to get back to camp before sunset, so we set off and round the next corner found this gorgeous specimen waiting for the sun to set.  He looked very hungry. We watched him for a while as he threw shapes for us, but then we had to scarper back to camp or risk getting a stern telling off.

Get a load of me!!

Get a load of me!!

In the morning I was still feeling very feverish and achey, and beginning to think I might have malaria so we decided to head for Windhoek and get my blood screened.  On the way I amused myself by reading the Health section of all of our guide books and manage to narrow my malady down to Malaria, Dengue or Typhus!! 

As well as me we also need to get the power supply problem sorted in Windhoek.  I had contacted the Dell dealer earlier in the week and they have the right one in stock, so at least I now have an electric computer again.  There’s meant to be a clinic nearby but it’s shut so we have a late lunch instead. 

On the way out to our chosen campsite Sean inadvertently drives through a Police checkpoint and after reversing back to it manages to be incoherent and slur at the very cross policeman who wants to fine us.  Fortunately we get off by claiming we’ve got no money.  We ended up having to drive back through the same checkpoint as the campsite was shut but fortunately they must be bored by us second time round.  We end up camped by a dual carriageway next to an airport, at a lodge claiming to offer ‘natural surroundings’.

At the hospital in the morning I have blood taken and the pee scared out of me by a huge Germanic nurse frau who, in spite of the sickly religious poetry adorning her walls was one of the least reassuring medics I’ve encountered.  Four hours later the test results came back negative for anything, so at least I don’t have malaria.   

Windhoek is tiny, and strangely hilly after being in so many flat places for such a long time.  It’s extremely neat, clean and orderly, it’s attractions however escape me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not feeling good, or perhaps it’s because it’s the least African feeling city I’ve ever been in.  So we decide to leave and camp at a secluded reservoir, the Von Bach Dam, about 75k away and have a lovely quiet evening until the thunder and torrential rain start!  Morning arrives with me still feeling pants and now with a new symptom – little spots. 

Swakopmund is Uber Germanic

Swakopmund is Uber Germanic

We decide to set off forthwith and see if the doctors at the seaside resort of Swakopmund can do any better than their Windhoek counterparts.  By the way – the indigenous Nama people named the river Swakop – it means ‘bottom-poo’!  The silly German colonists then named their seaside idyll ‘bottom poo mouth’.

The charming doctor Van Wyck at the Bismark Medical Centre (really!) takes one look at me and declares that I have chickenpox.  When I announce this to Sean he nearly snorts his brain out laughing. 

Swakopmund Rest Camp or Stalag 13?

Swakopmund Rest Camp or Stalag 13?

So that I can rest and recuperate we have spent the last 3 nights holed up at this bizarre butlins/stalag 13 holiday camp surrounded by an 8ft electric fence.  I don’t know what it’s like outside but Sean has been out on various forays and brought back evidence of Swakopmund’s charms.  By the way is it just me or does this look strangely familiar to you denizens of Henley on Thames??

I'm sure I've seen this before somewhere.........

I'm sure I've seen this before somewhere.........

Anyhoo, the good news is I’m now feeling almost fully restored and we’re heading South again today to Sossusvlei to look at some big sandpit or other and from there to Fish River Canyon, which I’m given to believe is a great big hole in the ground.  If you haven’t seen my other recent posts on S. African and Botswana scroll down!  If you have I apologies and get on with what you were doing…
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Saturday 7th– Saturday 14th February

Our last day in South Africa started in a fairly rubbish way, and progressively got worse.  Sean was still very uncomfortable & itchy, and my laptop power supply has ceased to function so we drove around in the heat for ages looking for a 5A fuse, but they don’t exist.  A thousand curses on Dell for having proprietary power supplies!  Not having a laptop could prove to be a major pain, no Garmin maps, no photo uploading from cameras, no blogging……

Finally we gave up and headed to Botswana and made the border by 5.30 and were through in record time, and spent our first night camped on the banks of the Limpopo, which is neither as great or greasy as one would have hoped.

On our way to Francistown the next day we passed little of note.  Botswana is cattle country, and in spite of the fences cows are everywhere and frequently feature as roadkill.  Botswana also has millions of wild donkeys and we drove by a recently departed one being eaten by vultures.

Once in Francistown we attended to a few domestic chores including email and realised that our tenants have decided unilaterally to not pay February’s rent. Apparently, and I quote ” this mths rent already spent on hse purchase”  I am obviously incredibly angry and staggered that anyone could be so glib, and that someone with whom I used to work can act with such cavalier disregard for both the law and common decency.  This hassle was the icing on the cake, and right at that moment and for the first time I wished the trip was over.

Remember one is British!

Remember one is British!

However, tomorrow is always another day and the fact that Sean woke up with a tick attached to his genitals served to lighten my mood considerably.  You will be relieved to note that there is no photo!  We had planned to go to the Mkgadigadi Pans, as crossed by Clarkson et al, but discovered that there has been too much rain and they are impassable, so we made do with camping at a lovely site on the edge, and watching a beautiful sunset as the full moon rose behind us. 

Sunset in the wilderness

Sunset in the wilderness

On our way to the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okovango Delta we stopped off in Maun for the night.  We headed to the nearest bar/restaurant and walked into a meeting in progress, so we sat at the bar and quietly earwigged and tried not to giggle as it turned out to be the committee meeting for the next ex-pat pageant.  Very surreal!

Onwards for some delta therapy.  I took an executive decision and overruled the SF by insisting that we just camped in the delta, and not drive around endlessly for hours.  So we booked ourselves into Third Bridge campsite for a couple of nights and set off for the Okovango. 

Like icebergs, but warmer

Like icebergs, but warmer

The drive in was beautiful and Sean declared it one of the best day’s driving he’s ever had. The infrastructure in the reserve is nothing more than sand tracks, and there has been a lot of rain lately so there were some huge pools of water to drive through, a little bit hairy at first, but Sean ploughed through them manfully and we were fine.  And when it wasn’t mud, the track often turned to very deep sand which was also a challenge but eventually we made it to the camp. 

Third Bridge Campsite

Third Bridge Campsite

The camps in Moremi are unfenced and on the first night we heard lions really close by.  I stayed up until the roars got to within 50 feet, and then retired to the Hotel du Van.  Sean went off in hot pursuit, probably shouting “Me! Me, eat me!” He didn’t succeed in being eaten, but did just catch sight of two leonine backs disappearing into the undergrowth ahead.  Later in the night I woke up dreaming about washing machines and found about 8 hippos grazing around us, and yes, they sound like sloshing washing machines when they munch!  These nights when it is just the two of us, surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness are the times when I am most absolutely happy and at peace.

The next day we spent very quietly, me reading, Sean trying to get eaten…………….

More teeth out here than you can shake a stick at

More teeth out here than you can shake a stick at

We were both looking forward to darkness but the night passed without so much as a squeak from any toothy wildlife however in the morning the car was surrounded by hyena tracks.  We then had to leave, but on the way out spotted this albino Red Lechwe – I bet he got teased at school. 

'Chalky' Lechwe

'Chalky' Lechwe

The roads had dried out a lot and the ponds had shrunk to mere puddles

Out of the park we headed North West toward the Namibian border and overnighted at Sepopa Swamp Stop.  It has a lovely setting on the river and while we were sitting looking at the view and enjoying a beer I noticed a little snake twisting along the railing, Sean got a quick look before it dropped off into the verdure beneath.  The two barmaids at this joint were very friendly, helpful and quite staggeringly idle.  The owner was clearly off site, and they managed to ignore a table of dirty glasses which were in plain sight 20 feet from the bar from the time we arrived till who knows when? They could still be there now.

Our time in Botswana has been way, way too short and I really hope we get the opportunity to come back here again for another much longer visit.  It was frustrating to have so much of the country inaccessible to us, but that’s the rainy season for you.  Hmm, I’m already thinking of an extended Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana tour when they get rid of the evil man with the little mustache.

28th January – 6th February

Shamefully, almost the first thing we did in South Africa was head for the mall.  The Riverside Mall in Nelspruit seemed huge and shiny after Mozambique’s limited shopping opportunities.  I quivered with temptation in such a temple to consumerism, and if I had a viable credit future I could have had some serious fun.  However, I don’t and I didn’t!   Leaving the Mall we had our first encounter with the South African Police when we got pulled over by the narcotics squad – could they have been acting on a tip off?

Before we left Nelspruit we had to get a new windscreen for Elsie as a crack which we noticed yesterday has spread with remarkable rapidity.  We called in at the local Glasfit and they booked us in and fitted a new one for about £50!  We also finally found a shop, ‘Camp & Gas’, to fill our recalcitrant gas cylinders, so we’re fully tooled up again.

Gratuitous arms length shot of us having a nice time

Gratuitous arms length shot of us having a nice time

Our reason for being in SA at this stage was to visit Katie whom we’d met with her sister, Sarah, in Tanga, Tanzania.  Katie is living Sean’s dream life and with her boyfriend Joe manages the Askari Wilderness Conservation programme which is located on Pidwa Wilderness in Limpopo Province. She had very kindly invited us to come and stay for a few days, and offered Sean the opportunity to get his hands dirty (she extended the offer to me too but I’ve got selective hearing and just heard ‘stay’ and ‘private game reserve’).   The logical route to get to Katie, for us anyway, was through Kruger so we headed for Berg en Dal camp on our first night in the camp & enjoyed hearing a lion roaring as we ate sarnies in the rain.

A Frican Elephant - geddit Victoria??

A Frican Elephant - geddit Victoria??

Contrary to popular belief the initials ‘SF’ actually stand for ‘Safari Fascist’ and if anything the regime intensified over the next 3 days, the nadir actually being hauled from the Hotel du Van at 4.30am.

It’s ridiculously easy to see game in the Kruger, so we saw lots of DTAs (Deer-y Type Arrangements), elephant, some rhino, but no leopards gosh darnit!  We also had fun driving over/through the Oliphant River and when we looked at it a day later it was impassable.

We drove through there yesterday!

We drove through there yesterday!

On our last full day in Kruger a highlight (and some compensation for SF’s alarm going off at 4.10) was seeing a whole family of hyena playing outside their den.  This one liked Elsie and chewed off a bit.

Mmm, wheel trim.....

Mmm, wheel trim.....

Once out of the Kruger we stayed overnight in Phalaborwa before heading on to Pidwa Wilderness.

South Africans have a taste for the twee, and call their towns, houses and tourist accommodation some truly mind bogglingly ghastly confections.  ‘Cosy Nook’s are everywhere, ‘Hideaway’s abound, but without doubt the worst I spotted on the road was ‘Granny Dot’s Country Spot.’  Make of that what you will.

On the morning of the 5th Feb we received a text from Katie warning us that they’d had 13cm of rain overnight and we might find a few roads flooded.  In spite of this we got there fine, found the place fine, and then I said “I’m sure Katie said to turn left at the barn”  She didn’t.

And then I got stuck

And then I got stuck

Talk about making an entrance.

Katie came to rescue us with Colin the resident vervet monkey to help, but unfortunately Elsie defied all of Sean and Katie’s efforts to dig and tow her out.  Joe bought the volunteers Kath, Cath and Angela down to have a laugh and eventually we gave up and went up to the house.

Yes, that is a monkey attached to my leg

Yes, that is a monkey attached to my leg

It happened to be Katie’s birthday and the volunteers had made a birthday dinner with cake and everything!  We had also bought Katie a cake, but Colin had first dibs on it while we were looking the other way.

The next morning we were put to task and helped clear a couple of patches of an invasive alien plant.  Datura is used as a (highly dangerous) hallucinogen by the locals and spreads really quickly.  Pulling it up was easy and gratifyingly work, the ground was soft due to all the rain and it was also quick to see the results of our labour.  The afternoon was a bit tougher.  Brush packing involves firstly using machetes to cut down Sickle Bush which is very thorny, then taking the branches to an eroded site where we broke the ground with pick axes before using the cut brush to cover the ground.  This keeps the game off long enough for the grasses to regenerate.  Apart from getting covered in super-itchy tiny caterpillars Sean loved all the physical exertion, I loved the brush clearing, but found the pickaxe part seriously exhausting.  The volunteers showed me up for the total wuss that I am as they just got completely stuck into it.  They were nearly at the end of their month’s stay and were super-fit and muscly from the work.

Over lunch Katie & Joe enlisted Tommy and his tractor and Elsie was once again hauled out of the mud.  That night we spoke to my gorgeous nephew, wished him a happy 6th birthday and then collapsed into bed exhausted.

The following morning Sean got to live out another childhood fantasy as we went on an Anti-Poaching patrol.  Like all reserves Pidwa has a poaching problem, and we went to look at an area that hadn’t been covered since Christmas when a lot of snares were recovered.  Fortunately for Pidwa and the animals we didn’t find any snares but  Sean found a kudu skeleton which Joe thought must have been poached a while ago.  I really enjoyed the walk through the bush and we encountered hundreds of stunning Golden Orb spiders, their webs are beautiful and incredibly strong – apparently there are tests being carried out to see if it can be used like Kevlar.

Anyone arachnaphobic?

Anyone arachnaphobic?

At lunchtime, after peeling off all the spider web attached to our clothes we said our goodbyes and struck out for Botswana. We were sorry that our stay was so short, but can’t shake the feeling that time is running out on us.  Katie and Joe were kind and generous hosts, and we enjoyed our stay very much.  They are super dedicated and run a really good programme. Katie is also one of the few people I’ve met who decide what they want to do as a child (on safari with her family) and stick at it until they get there. Thanks for having us!

Joe, Katie and 'Colin's Angels'

Joe, Katie and 'Colin's Angels'

As a footnote to all this Sean developed a severe allergic reaction to the caterpillars from yesterday and his neck, back and torso came up in hyper-itchy red welts, so we stopped in Tzaneen to see a pharmacist who recommended powerful antihystamines. Now he knows how I felt after my DEET inhalation experience in Egypt.

20th – 28th January

The first thing we discovered about Mozambique is that it has the most offensive, grasping, odiously smug border officials we’ve encountered to date.  (I can say this now we’re safely out of the country!)  We had a fairly testy half hour or so, but got through without parting with any obvious backhander, although there was a mysterious ‘border tax’.  Hey ho, as usual it feels very good to safely cross into another country without major hold up.

I don’t know for sure where the border tax was going but it clearly wasn’t being spent on the road.  Mozambican potholes are in a class of their own, they cover stretches of road 60km long, some are knee deep and most have nasty sharp edges. 

Still life with potholes and pineapple

Still life with potholes and pineapple

Another feature of the Moz roads are the enterprising children who wait by the side of said potholes and, when they see a car coming, start energetically lobbing handfuls of grass and sand into them, and then run alongside the car demanding money.  I declined to reward their labours, suspecting that if this ploy is successful they will start digging the roads up to guarantee their income. 

Arriving in Tete on our first evening we crossed the massive suspension bridge over the mighty Zambezi which felt like a significant moment.  Our only camping option that night was the ‘Jesus e Bom’ campsite.  He might be bom, but he knows nothing about constructing ablution blocks.  Nuff said.  We sat that night watching the sunset and rain fall over the Zambezi.

Zambezi sunset

Zambezi sunset

Moz is a huge country and driving is slow so we had to overnight in Chimoi on our way to the coast.  Chimoi is a busy little town, but unfortunately has no camping so we had to take a room in a backpacker hostel, and were afflicted by the most atrocious bed bug bites – I mean scores of them.  It was a shame as the owners were very friendly and helpful.   An encounter that evening with a unstoppably loquacious Latvian gave rise to a new acronym for a phenomena that we’ve encountered a lot on this trip.  STOS – Single Traveller on Send. 

Moz has a much lower population density than we’ve seen for a while (decades of civil war will do that for you)  and as we drove through the middle of the country we noticed vast tracts of uncultivated bush, broken only by intermittent very large villages of mud and thatch huts.  It’s clear that the after effects of the war are still profoundly affecting the human geography of the country.  Of course it’s blindingly obvious that this is as a direct result of the landmining of most of the country, but I only worked it out after we’d left. 

A day later we arrived at Inhassoro on the coast and found out what all the fuss is about. 

Inhassoro beach

Inhassoro beach

The beaches are stunning, the sea idyllic…  Over the next few days we made short hops down the coast, staying in a different campsite every night.  The camping in Moz is much more expensive than we’ve been used to, South Africans have bought up huge tracts of the coast to indulge in fishin’, braai’n, drinkin’ and 4×4’n up and down the beaches and apparently it’s heaving over SA school holidays. 

Smug man in pool

Smug man in pool

The perils of life in Africa were brought into sharp relief for us when we arrived at the Blue Water Bay Resort, where Matthew, the young South African Manager, had just had to go and pick up the body of one of his staff who had died of Malaria.  We also met a Zimbabwean couple who had been evicted from their farm, and had travelled South repeatedly trying to find a peaceful place to live and work with their numerous horses. 

We continued South to Tofo, Mozambique’s diving capital, and decided to try snorkelling with Whale Sharks.  The boat part was all a bit hectic, as soon as the outline of the big beastie had been spotted it was ‘Dive! Dive!’ and everyone jumped off the boat and swam hard to locate and keep up with the shark.  There were only 8 of us on the boat, so it could have been a lot worse.  We were wildly lucky, officially we saw 6, Sean reckons he saw 8, and was actually nutted by an inquisitive one and pushed through the water.  By contrast, the BBC were here for 5 weeks recently and didn’t see any at all – so take that Kate Humble!!

Sharking about

Sharking about

In addition to it’s abundant underwater attractions the beach at Tofo is outrageously beautiful, a picture postcard crescent of golden sand, bright blue sea and foamy surf.  Unfortunately it was also covered in some particularly nasty jelly fish so apart from the sharking we stayed out of the water.

Sand, sea, surf and jellyfish

Sand, sea, surf and jellyfish

After that excitement we thought it unfair to expect any more from Mozambique, and headed for the border.  This was still a fairly long slog and involved another two overnight stops, one at Zavora, and the last at Marracuene. These places were notable only for their dilapidation and enormous numbers of mosquitos in that order.  It rained very heavily at Marracuene, and we chatted to the friendly owner of the camp in the bar, before heading back to the Hotel du Van for a soggy night. 

We liked Mozambique, as much for it’s mystique as for the beautiful coastline and ‘unspoilt’ countryside.  The irony of that last statement is not lost on me, we saw many signs denoting the ongoing demining of the country, and there are those that reckon it will never be finished. 

The following morning we crossed the border into South Africa, where we take a 4 night Kruger safari before we go and visit our new friend, Katie on her game reserve. 

Because of time constraints we’re not going to visit Zambia as we had originally planned.  This continent is too big, and 6 months just ain’t long enough.  So another couple of nights in SA then onto Botswana.