26th February – 21st April
Nearly there!
Nearly there!

Obviously I’m now writing this nearly 6 weeks after the events so details are hazy, although that possibly has more to do with South African viticulture than my memory.  Once arrived in CT we were greeted by our friend Caro, who commutes between CT and Henley, ostensibly poisoning peoples foreheads.  After finding a campsite on Chapmans Peak we all headed to a great pub round the corner called Stavangers and enjoyed some local wine while we watched the sun go down over Nordhoek beach and Caro brought us up to speed on all the news (hah!) from home.  

So how come we've done about 30,000km??
This sign is at Cape Point – so how come we’ve done about 30,000km??

For the next few days we concentrated on lazing about and exploring, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point where we climbed up to the lighthouse and had to cling on with our fingernails to prevent being blown off, as it was incredibly windy.  The coastline is stunning, wild and fierce and the sea is the most beautiful aquamarine colour, but freezing cold, apparently it’s the Benguela current from Antarctica you know.

It's bracing here
It’s bracing here, never mind Bognor 

At Boulders Beach there is a very famous colony of Jackass Penguins and of course Sean braved the icy water to have a swim with them, while I just admired them on dry land.  Important penguin facts are that apparently this is one of two penguin colonies that isn’t at a pole or something, they don’t smell too good and they bite you when you try and walk past them….

Pingus, thousands of 'em
Pingus, thousands of ’em

On Sunday 8th we watched some of the 25,000 competitors in the Cape Argus cycle race whizz past our campsite at Chapmans Peak.  It was cold and windy and the race was later halted as the high winds on Chapmans Peak were judged to be a danger to the contestants.  We watched it all from the safety of the local pub with Milan and Louise, a Kiwi/Swedish couple who claimed to have nicked their Land Rover in Switzerland and were seeing how far they could get in it!

On the 9th we met up with our friends Rod and Mandy who have sensibly arranged their life to spend 6 months of the year in South Africa and the other 6 in Henley.  They took us for a lovely lunch at a winery called Somerbosch, it was great to sit in the sunshine eating really good food, and cheese!!  After a misspent afternoon we spent the night at their place and sped off in the morning to pic up Gaz, our handsome and powerful Corporate Sponsor, from the airport, but not before Sean wolfed down a gigantic full English breakfast that Rod cooked for him.  Priorities.

Gaz was staying at Hout Bay View – a gorgeous guesthouse run by our charming and ridiculously handsome friends Brian and Drew, and once he’d caught his breath we all headed off for another lunch at the tres chic ‘Paranga’ in Camps Bay, where we roasted in the sunshine and admired the beautiful people, some of whom, I’m happy to say were at our table. Surrounded by all this glam I felt desperately hideous as I was wearing some crummy emergency trousers that I’d had to buy on arrival in CT owing to all other clothes being worn out. But hey!  A few glasses of wine later I gave up caring about sartorial elegance.

View over Hout Bay, from Hout Bay View!
View over Hout Bay, from Hout Bay View!

Brian and Drew found a room for us at Hout Bay View and so we had a few days of luxury and a lot of fun and food with Gaz.  On Friday we were privileged to have a long and delicious lunch at the fabulous restaurant at Tokara winery in Stellenbosch. Our host was Colleen who works with ‘And Beyond’, the company that runs the wonderful Kitchwa Tembo camp, remember that from Kenya?  Colleen was great company, the view fantastic and the food spectacular.

Tokara Vines
Tokara Vines

At the other end of the fabulous spectrum was the entertainment provided at Dunes, a beach resto in Hout Bay on Sunday.  It basically consisted of a guy doing Karaoke all on his own, mangling the lyrics all the while.  The highpoint of which for me was his interpretation of ‘Sultans of Swing’ – I swear I heard him sing ‘Sultan Pigs Wing’.  We laughed till we cried, then got over refreshed and watched the Six Nations rugby at a boozy pub called Pirates, where the best entertainment we could find was 3 very drunk guys and a dog trying to drive off in a teeny pickup.  I have worked out that the omnipresent car guards are not there to prevent break ins, but to prevent drunks from hitting other cars on their way out of the car park.  And while we’re on the subject of car parking this caught my eye…

Well that's all right then isn't it?
Well that’s all right then isn’t it?

And then suddenly it was all over. On Monday afternoon Gary left for the airport, and we headed back to our campsite at Chapmans Peak to recover.  A couple of days later we camped out for the last time at Stellenbosch where ironically we ran out of wine, and where I nervously phoned Expedia and booked a flight home. The following morning, Friday 20th March, we presented Elsie at the shipping company where after waiting an hour for a slouchy Customs Official, the carnet de passage was stamped, Elsie was loaded into her container, tied down to protect her against damage on the high seas and sealed in.  Wham bam, thank you mam!

Elsie successfully contained
Elsie successfully contained

A few hours later we boarded SA220 and endured a hellish and completely sleepless 13 hour flight (don’t fly South African, the seat pitch was designed with persons of restricted growth in mind) and we were twanged back into Heathrow, and the ‘real world’.  We were greeted by my lovely sister and a pair of beautiful varmints and it was wonderful to see them. 

We’ve been away just over 6 months having the most amazing time, we’ve missed the entire winter, economic collapse, and not much else apparently.  How are we going to adjust to a stationary life?!

Advertisements

22nd February – 25th Feb

After being literally confined to barracks for three days in Swakopmund on Sunday I finally felt better enough to move on.  On the way down the coast we passed through the coastal town of  Walvis Bay, which stunningly managed to be even less appealing than Swak.  The best thing about it was this sign urging one not to put one’s car keys into a martini.  Sound advice indeed.

As if you would!

As if you would!

 There was an awful lot of sand about before the landscape changed and assumed the look of the Wild West, scrubby rolling hills, we almost expected to be attacked by a whooping band of braves.  That night we camped out again for the first time in a few days and it felt very good to have a fire, admire the stunning sunset and look at the stars before retiring to the Hotel du Van.

Another beautiful African sunset.............

Another beautiful African sunset.............

The Safari Fascist turned his hand to Dune spotting in the morning and got me up at 5am.  We set off for Sossusvlei in the pitch dark, but I have to grudgingly confess that it was worth it, as this world famous Namibian Photo Opportunity was deserted when we arrived and the sight of the sun lighting these enormous red dunes was truly awesome.  

Blindingly beautiful sunrise

Blindingly beautiful sunrise

We climbed up the biggest dune and watched the light wash over the sand sea around us. 

An early start but worth it

An early start but worth it

After that we drove and drove for hours, ending up camped by a dam where as if to mock the earlier, sandy part of the day it absolutely threw it down overnight.  Our tent has an unattractive habit of storing up pools of water that take you by surprise in the morning and this was no exception.  Sean always cops it first as he gets up to make coffee.  Tee hee!

On the advice of the staff at the dam we avoided one road as it was expected to be flooded.  After driving for half an hour we found the road in front of us was under water, and another car had stopped and the driver was pulling debris and uprooted trees out of the path of his car.  He turned out to be Pieter, a German tourist and his wife.  He and Sean walked across the river to make sure it wasn’t too deep and Pieter, then I drove across.   It was all quite exciting as there were no other tyre tracks on the road so we were clearly the first people to have tried to make this journey this morning and we didn’t know what we’d have to face ahead.  But we soon found out.  We got to the point at which the road crossed the Lowen River and found that we were faced with about 100m of rushing muddy water.  Once again Sean and his trusty stick poked their way across.  The water came up to the bottom of Sean’s immodest rugby shorts, and he’s got long legs so it must have been quite deep.  Pieter manfully let me take the crossing first and with racing heart I drove into the water.  Well, buying Elsie a snorkel was almost justified at last, and apart from a brief point where my heart missed a beat and Elsie’s tyres seemed to miss the bottom we made it safely across. After the relatively minor crossing featured above we arrived at the Canon Roadhouse, where we enjoyed a celebratory beer and a very pleasant dinner with our German chums.  This place had the biggest bugs we’ve seen so far, Sean managed to find a scorpion by the loos as well as a gigantic hairy Baboon Spider and this little chap.

Eat your heart out Jiminy Cricket

Eat your heart out Jiminy Cricket

After another late and soggy morning we took a look at the big hole in the ground that is the Fish River Canyon.  What is it with me and sightseeing?? I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for cooing at big geography.  It was very big, and deep but we were prohibited from doing more than looking at it due to the amount of water at the bottom.

Ticking that off the list of Namibian 'must sees'

Ticking that off the list of Namibian 'must sees'

 And then we drove over the border into South Africa.

25th February – 3rd March

We had a slightly bizarre border crossing as the official who inspected our Elsie wanted to sing Joan Armatrading songs with me, and encourage us to start businesses in Johannesburg.  We camped on the banks of the Orange River, Sean took a swim and later caught a catfish.

Waving or drowning??

Waving or drowning??

The coast of the Western Cape is a region largely untouched by tourism, and for good reason.  The little towns that we drove to had almost nothing to recommend them

Spud U Like takes on a whole new significance in these parts

Spud U Like takes on a whole new significance in these parts

We did however start getting tantalising glimpses of vineyards and the bacchanalian festivities that lay ahead.   After a sleepless night by the side of a dam in Clanwilliam, caused by some ignorant and completely inebriated over privileged white kids we had a very jolly evening in the quaint town of Montagu, in the heart of the cape winelands.  We managed to watch the Ireland v. England Six Nations game in a pub owned by a Yorkshireman, in company with PJ and Tanya from Ireland.  Naturally they were extremely gracious when Ireland won, and we all got suitably over refreshed.

And then finally the following morning we reached the end of the road

Elsie runs out of road

Elsie runs out of road

It was very windy, and rather emotional.  After such a long time and so many extraordinary experiences it felt vaguely anticlimactic to just take a couple of snaps and head on.

Behind us, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans

Behind us, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans

Deciding not to go for Cape Town today we pootled along the coast admiring the beautiful, deserted white sand beaches and shivering at how cold the sea was.

I'm checking to see if my toes are still attached, as I can no longer feel them

I'm checking to see if my toes are still attached, as I can no longer feel them

And then the next day it was all over, we arrived in Cape Town, and we celebrated by having a long lunch at the Waterfront, where I more than made up for the six months of cheese deprivation I’ve suffered. 

We’ve done about 19,500 miles and almost every one has been a dream come true.

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…

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.

13th – 20th January 2009

We’re now in Blantyre, Malawi, and about to leave for Mozambique.  Malawi is an absolutely stunning country; the scenery on the drive over from Tanzania was amazing, steep hills covered in tea and banana plantations. Coming down from the Tanzanian highlands we glimpsed Lake Malawi shimmering in the distance, and although we knew it was big, we had no idea exactly how big, and how blue.  From this side one can just make out the mountains on the Mozambique side. 

Lots of blue wobbly stuff

Lots of blue wobbly stuff

 Over this week we’ve driven South along the lake, and detoured to visit a couple of game parks on the way cos they’re cheap here! 

A little bit of Scotland, maybe that's why the missionaries liked it here

A little bit of Scotland, maybe that's why the missionaries liked it here

The first park we visited, Nyika Plateau, was a surreal trip through Devon, Scotland and back to Africa as the landscape changed from rolling hills, with tree filled valleys and tors, to barren moorland where you could easily imagine the herds of Roan antelope were red deer.  It even had bracken and blackberries!

In spite of all this, I just can’t love Malawi.  It’s beautiful to look at, but somehow shallow.  There are a few reasons why Malawi just doesn’t do it for me.  Primarily, it has for a long time been a corridor for travelling between North and South, and as such, has the strongest ‘backpacker’ culture of all the African countries we’ve visited so far.  The campsites are well equipped, well run, and in spite of their laid back ‘stoner’ vibe, are about as individual and atmospheric as Travel Lodges. 

It also must have something to do with the staggering Tsetse fly population, by which we have been bitten senseless.  The beautiful Vwasa Marsh National Park was marvellous in every regard, except for the pestilent Tsetses.  I was still in pain 3 days later and have bruises where the bites were.

Vwaza Marsh, full of small bitey things

Vwaza Marsh, full of small bitey things

Thirdly, food.  Malawi’s markets seem to be stocked exclusively with little dried fish and tomatoes.  Nothing else.  This makes self catering tricky, to say nothing of our diminished gas supply. 

Cooking sans gaz

Cooking sans gaz

Which means we’re currently reliant on the universal ‘backpacker’ menu of burritos and burgers.  Bleagh…….

And another thing!  It has started to rain, big time.  Now this I can’t blame on Malawi, we always knew we’d hit the rainy season about here. Even so it has come of something as a shock.  The change in weather causes fabulous things like dramatic sunsets and awesome displays when multiple electrical storms do their thing over the lake.

Sunset over Lake Malawi

Sunset over Lake Malawi

None of this short sharp shower in the afternoon nonsense, when it rains, it threatens to drown or wash us away, this makes for some pretty challenging driving.

Slippery bridge

Slippery bridges

and shed loads

and shed loads

And finally, we’re running out of money and time, and having to think about coming home soon and that is throwing up it’s own challenges, so we’ve been busy planning our next steps from here.  The current plan is Mozambique next before a quick visit to S. Africa en route to Botswana, then Namibia then into S. Africa for the grand finale in Cape Town.

Nothing to do with you Malawi, we just happen to be here at the moment. 

PS.  Don’t take it too personally, Sean loves you.

Thursday 8th January – Tuesday 13th January

Elsie has firm buns again!!  Thanks to the lovely fellows at Tren Tyre, especially Mike Chantry & Erik who went out of their way to get us back on the road.

Elsie having her bottom looked at

Elsie having her bottom looked at

 Whilst we had the shocks fitted Sean & Mike, who is originally from St. Austell, chatted about rugby and Mike showed us his impressive gunshot wound.  We left Dar a day later than planned, but feeling positively liberated to be on the road again.  

On Thursday night we stayed at Malela Campsite – it was indicated on the GPS- but when we got there we found it derelict and deserted.  This suited us fine but eventually a guy turned up and extracted 6000 Ts from us.  It was an outrageous sum to pay for somewhere with no facilities at all, not even water, but when I reminded myself that it was only £3 it didn’t seem so bad…. 

The following morning we decided to backtrack to Morogoro as we were very low on cooking gas.  Morogoro is a bustling regional capital, with everything you could wish for, except the ability to refill gas cyliners.  So we made a 75 mile round trip, but only managed to get beer and water.  Oh well, at least we got the essentials covered.

Downtown Morogoro

Downtown Morogoro

From Morogoro the road to our next destination, Iringa, goes through Mikumi National Park.  From the main road we spotted elephant, buffalo and a tower of giraffe.  Close to Iringa we stayed at the very well run Riverside Camp for one night and enjoyed a camp fire and the closest we’ve got to a romantic dinner for a while with candles and everything!  Sean was delighted that as we were leaving I reversed into a tree, evening out the score somewhat, although unlike his efforts so far I didn’t manage to damage the car.  Did I mention this before?

On Saturday 10th we gave in to our wilderness craving and headed for Ruaha National Park.  The last 40 miles of the road from Iringa to the park had possibly the worst corrugations so far and even with her new firm buns it was very difficult to actually stop Elsie being shaken off the road, and the fillings coming out of our teeth.  It took us 3 hours to cover about 75km, and by the time we got into the park at about 3.30 I was exhausted by the driving. 

The Ruaha is a postcard African river, with sandy beds, big boulders, and a healthy population of crocs and hippos.  Amongst other things we saw a croc with her babies sitting on her back. 

Sweeeeeet!

Sweeeeeet!

I wasn’t allowed to steal one.  Reluctantly, we left the park at 6pm as we couldn’t afford the $60 it costs to camp in Tanzanian parks.   Our chosen campsite, Chogela Camp was 17 miles away, I think it was nice, but we couldn’t see much of it as it was dark by the time we got there and it did have the scariest range of weirdy insects we’ve encountered so far.

We got up hideously early the next day to get back into the park, but the sight of the full moon above the road ahead and the dawn just breaking behind us made up for the 5am start.  Ruaha is meant to be home to large buffalo herds so it came as no surprise that we didn’t see a single one.

Proof that we're not hiding out in Bognor

Proof that we're not hiding out in Bognor

 We did however spot a lot of circling vultures and followed them down to the ground where we saw a big pride of lions, absolutely stuffed after eating something substantial, but all that were left were a couple of leg bones.

Another zebra anyone??

Another zebra anyone??

Ladies who've lunched

Ladies who've lunched

We also saw a couple of small herds of ellies, which made a half hearted attempt to chase us as they had calves, and a vervet monkey crèche, with about 10 very cute baby vervets mucking about as only small monkeys can. 

On our last night in Tanzania, we stayed at ‘Bongo Camping’ between Mbeya and the Tanzanian border, which is described in the Lonely Planet as ‘community integrated.’ This means that you’re actually in the middle of the village and the evening’s main entertainment.  Balloons to the rescue!

Keeping Sean amused is a constant challenge

Keeping Sean amused is a constant challenge

It was a good place, and the camping fees contributed toward the village school so we felt useful to boot.  The sunset was stunning

Shepherds delight? I think not!

Shepherds delight? I think not!

Since the road from hell in and out of Ruaha we’ve been trying to locate a random smell in Elsie, so at Riverside Camp we cleaned the car out and didn’t find anything more noxious than a slightly suspect cabbage.  Sadly, the weird smell continued especially over bumps, and at Bongo, while sniffing around the wheel arches (as you do) I think I’ve narrowed it down to oil leaking from a front shock absorber.  Aaaaaargh!!! These are meant to be the best shocks available, and we’ve gone through 3.

Leaving Tanzania we got a taste of things to come, as the skies blackened and when it started to rain we had to pull over for about 40 minutes unable to see anything ahead. 

Rainy season here we come!

Rainy season here we come!

Just in case you were wondering, or indeed care (sniff!).  We crossed into Malawi a few days ago, and haven’t found a means of blogging yet that doesn’t involve selling the car to raise funds.  We’ll post an update as soon as we can afford it.

27th December – 6th January

Well, our New Year was different!  From Tanga, we crossed over the Pangani River on the ferry which was a laugh as we had to disembark backwards for some reason.

Rusty, but effective

Rusty, but effective

 We drove down the coast a bit and found a place, The Beach Crab Resort, Pangani where we were lucky enough to be parked yards from the sea again

Castaway at the Beach Crab

Castaway at the Beach Crab

We spent another couple of days swimming and reading, before the final day of 2008 loomed.  Those of you that know me will already be aware that I’m not a fan of New Years Eve, it tends to bring out my (not so) inner curmudgeon, however I figured that being 11,500 miles from home might see a relaxation of my normal state of fear and loathing.  Hmmm……..

Imagine my horror when we turned up for dinner to find that all the tables had been pushed together for jolly communal dining.  Virtually all our fellow dinner guests were German.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against our European chums, after all, they do make good cars and beer, but being so outnumbered was a little overwhelming.  

We actually ended up sharing a table with some charming people, Theo, a German  and his outrageously beautiful Zambian wife, Annette, by whom we were both transfixed all night (its not fair!) and a solo Belgian, Phillippe, whose girlfriend and children seemed to have decamped to Norway without him for Christmas.

Fortunately Sean had anticipated my frosty British reserve, and mixed up a cocktail to be forever know as the ‘Cherry Hoff Drop’ (vodka, coconut milk, and cherry juice, for those of you that might wish to try this at home), which served to lubricate my social skills until fireworks at midnight when I scuttled off to the privacy of the Hotel du Van, relieved it was all over – (it is now!!). 

Answers on a postcard please.....

Answers on a postcard please.....

Anyhoo, moving swiftly on, there are a couple of other stories to tell. 

Firstly, Elsie’s bust suspension.  Back in Ethiopia we hit a pothole at some speed and with a fair crunch.  Yes, Sean was driving.  In spite of the assurances of Ndovo Garage in Nairobi that it would last one of our rear shocks has given up the ghost, with the result that Elsie is now shaking her ass like a crazy thing. We must seek a replacement forthwith which means that we will be stuck in Dar until we can source the right part and get it fitted.  So much for our plans to scoot through Tanzania.

Secondly, revisiting Tent with a View.  Back in the distant past when Sean and I came to Africa for the first time we were lucky enough to stay at Saadani Game Reserve, which is Tanzania’s only park on the coast.  The owner of the lodge, David Guthrie, is in part responsible for us falling in love with the African bush.  There is a story about a bottle of JD, and a drunken stumble around a game reserve in the dark here, but I’ll save that for another time. 

I’d tried to text Dave to let him know we were in his ‘hood, but suspected that he was spending Xmas in the UK, however, as we were only 30 miles up the road we thought we’d drop in anyway to have a look at the old place.  Having gone there and not recognised anything we decided to press on and head for Dar es Salaam.  And that’s when it all went pear shaped.  For the first time on this whole trip the Garmin let us down, the maps were senseless and we couldn’t find the road we needed.  The upshot is that we crossed the Pangani River again, and are almost back where we started in Tanzania after driving around for 5 hours looking for the road.  The interesting thing is that we still didn’t kill each other.  I must be relaxing!

Having said all that the place we stayed, Peponi Beach, was very nice, and gave us some good advice for further down route.

The next day we pressed on to Dar.  It was a long drive, but on a good tarmac road which was a blessed relief after having to coax Elsie over gravel & corrugations.  Every silver lining has a cloud however and I managed to score my first EVER speeding fine.  We had been warned about the Tanzanian Police and they didn’t waste any time in extracting money from us.  The official fine for speeding is 20,000 Tanzanian Shillings, however Sean suggested 10,000Ts as we didn’t need a receipt, and they seemed happy.  Funny that.  By the way I was allegedly doing 66kph in a 50.

Ten miles down the road the next patrol had a go, obviously having been radio’d about the loaded Wazungu heading their way.  I gave them some feedback and they quailed.  Then, when we reached Dar, I took a wrong turning and ended up going down a one way street to the ferry the wrong way.  Bless them, the police finally had a legitimate reason to fine me for something but I went so mental, telling them that they were a disgrace to African policing, that they gave in and helped us push in on the ferry queue.

Ferry at Dar es Salaam - one of many trips

Ferry at Dar es Salaam - one of many trips

After yet another weekend on the beach we went into Dar yesterday, and spent a day sitting around the Toyota Service Centre.  We emerged a whole £14 lighter, with a welded something, working handbrake and a much, much cleaner car.  Today our pursuit of a new shock proved fruitful, we have some new ones coming South from Arusha (on a bus on their own, aren’t they clever?).  With good luck and a following wind we should be able to leave Dar tomorrow and continue our safari. 

I know it’s really cold at home and that you will all hate me unreservedly for saying this but I’m fed up of sea ‘n’ sand.  I don’t feel like I’m on a Big African Adventure anymore, I feel like I’m stuck on some interminable beach holiday.   Oh boo hoo, poor me, I can hear your hearts collectively breaking. 

Till next time XX