Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
So now we have discovered that Johannesburg can rival Cape Town for good foodie restaurants. Dinner on Monday with Heidi and Anton was a lively affair with Espetadas (SA version of the Portugese-style dish incorporating large chunks of succulent beef, presented on a huge dangling skewer!) and good quantities of Pinotage to wash it all down.
On Tuesday Jenny chauffeured us to Gold Reef City where we visited the Apartheid Museum, a very moving exhibition of the political history of South Africa. It was set out very well, and is quite a haunting reminder of the country's very-recent, turbulent past.
Last night was the dining finale, with Chris and Lorna, Heidi, Anton and Jenny all running around and making time to join us at Piatto Mediterranean Kitchen, a lovely restaurant in the centre of Sandton. It was a good family catch-up, and we hope to be able to repeat this again (London? HK? JHB?) before too long.
Today is all about final packing and bidding farewell to all of Jenny's animals, who have kept us company (and provided warmth!) during these past few freezing days. Jenny is kindly ferrying us to the airport this afternoon - an easy departure - ahead of the onslaught of Heathrow queues and high security... What a welcome back to reality that will be!
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
For the past week, it has been lovely to catch up with Karen and Kate (and their respective tots, Bella and Lily). Both ladies have been extremely generous to us, and have loaned us their cars in order to explore more of the city ourselves (False Bay, V&A Waterfront, Chapman's Peak drive etc).
We have now moved down to a plush hostel near the Waterfront, in a bid to see what night life has to offer in the beautiful city of Cape Town. Sadly, we only have a few days left before we jet back to Johannesburg, but at least we get to see the Joburg-based cousins again one final time.
Location: V&A Waterfront, South Africa
Happy birthday to me!! :-D
We have spent the last couple of days around the beautiful (and still expanding) V&A waterfront, engaging in significant bouts of retail therapy. The weather in Cape Town has been variable, ranging from sunny skies and strong sun, to torrential downpours and general damp and greyness .
Yesterday was clear and bright, so Ess surprised me with a one hour high-speed boat trip in a jet boat (similar to the famous shark diving rubber duck - but without the concussion!). Skimming the water at speeds up to 100kph, we sometimes got airborne, which Ant absolutely loved, and the pilot took us past Clifton and Camps Bay, around the headland for some close-up views of the Twelve Apostles.
Later in the afternoon, we took Kate's car and drove up and down Chapman's Peak drive, with stunning viewpoints back into the bays. Today has been less idyllic on the weather front, so we remained indoors at the Waterfront, but treated ourselves to a platter of fresh oysters and a glass (or several) of champagne overlooking the harbour!
Location: Cape Town cousins!, South Africa
It has been fantastic to be able to catch up with family in Cape Town and take a few days out to generally sort and shop. It was great to meet Karen's hubby Rob and brand-new daughter Bella, and we managed to find enough time to catch up with each other and also fit in a day of shopping at the enormous Canal walk retail centre at Century City.
Moving on to see Kate and 17-month-old Lily was a further foray into family hospitality, and Katie was a star by letting us drive her car for a few days while she has been at work. We have ticked off Boulders beach penguins, a drive along False bay (stopping for lunch at the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay), a trip around Chapman's peak and a visit to the V&A waterfront.
Essy has consistently been doing damage to the credit card wherever there are shops to be found (not hard in CPT!) but she now has some lovely "Proper Clothes" to wear, after a year of being constrained by travelling gear and what we can carry in a rucksack!
Location: Stellenbosch, South Africa
The rest of the truck trip comprised a couple of long drive days to get to Fish River canyon and then on to Orange river on the South African border. We had an afternoon to canoe 15km along the river which was hot, but an enjoyable break from truck life. Our penultimate day was a 14 hour drive from the Namibian border down through the Western Cape, ending in Stellenbosch.
The scenery is much more green, with citrus plantations and rolling hills instead of the flat landscape that we have become accustomed to in Namibia. For the first time in weeks, we have met some cold, grey, rainy weather in Stellenbosch, which is maybe preparing us for our return to the UK. The absence of indoor heating makes it somewhat chillier than we are currently used to!
Visits to Maratie, Fairview and Uitkyk wineries around the town of Stellenbosch provided a welcome return to civilisation, with lots of delicious cheese, olive oil and red, white and rose wines to be tasted!
Location: Dunes at Soussusvlei, Namibia
After the adrenaline of quad-biking and sand-boarding down the Swakopmund dunes, (see Speed demon photos!) we headed further south to Soussusvlei. The earth has turned redder and the grass has a bright yellow hue. Only camel thorn acacia trees which have roots reaching down 80m can survive and even these are few and far between. When we reached the Soussusvlei pan, even trees were fairly sparse, with 200m high dunes signalling the start of a 32,000 sq km area of Western Namibia. The world's highest and oldest dunes are to be found here and the walk up Dune 45 at sunrise provided a magnificent viewpoint of the desert and it's hills.
We were entertained by a desert guide who taught us about life in the Namib desert, showing us a shovel-snouted lizard that he caught with bare hands, and unearthing a spider's trap door by blowing into the sand. Another strange sight was of a fog-basking beetle called a Toktokkie, which raises its bottom in the air, capturing moisture from the dawn fog, which then slides as droplets down the carapace into its mouth.
Location: Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park, Namibia
Heading 100km south from Etosha, we visited the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park, a farm that has been dedicated to raising captured and orphaned cheetahs since 1994, when farmers caught a pregnant cheetah that had decimated a herd of local cattle. In order to save the cubs, the farmer started the reserve and now buys cheetahs from local farmers (R2500) to prevent further killings.
Our first stop was the farm house where we got to meet 3 cubs up close. Ant was in his element, walking with the cubs and patting them before watching them devour donkey livers and kidneys on the front lawn.
Next we jumped into an open bakkie and zoomed off to the wild cheetah enclosure. The cheetahs can either smell the meat in the accompanying barrels, or associate food with the truck, because soon we had 8 kitties prowling around our truck. When the meat is thrown for them, they race to snatch it first, and speed away to a safe distance to eat. Feeding them in this way gave us a chance to experience their speed and agility. Some of them are better at securing meat than their rivals, and there is always one left who needed guidance to find the thrown meat! They weren't too grateful either, growling ferociously at the handlers and their sticks. Final stop was to the "kittens", an enclosure of fluffy-headed 14 month old youngsters, who growled at the over-eager German paparazzi who tried to get their lenses through the mesh fence!
Location: Okaukuejo water hole, Namibia
The morning game drive was very quiet and we saw little to excite us! We stopped at a few water holes and saw kudu, springbok and a lot of zebras but no big Five. Then by a large chalky waterhole surrounded by gemsbok, we saw a solitary bull elephant appear in the distance. We persuaded our truck mates to wait (they aren't too good at that sometimes, as it interrupts their chatting!) but this time we were rewarded with an elephant mud bath! He literally painted himself white by spraying chalky water onto his body with his trunk, or kicking up clouds of spray with a lashing leg. A thousand photos bear witness to a fun and frivolous 10 minute spectacle!
Moving onto Okaukuejo, the second rest camp, we encountered the main draw of its central waterhole which is floodlit at night time. We enjoyed the sight of several elephant drinking, plus a large gemsbok waded out to the centre of the waterhole for a drink and yet more elephants sauntered to the water's edge and then had a trumpetting and grumpy stand-off.
At sunset, we watched zebras arrive through the dusty orange haze and cast their reflections on the still water. A gangly giraffe came to drink, lowering itself awkwardly on the uneven ground. Later after dinner, we watched a group of 7 elephants with playful youngsters, gifraffe, spotted hyenas and, best of all, four black rhino. First 2 males came to drink and then out of the darkness emerged a mother and baby, much to the annoyance of the first male. The rhinos, like the ellies, seem to be grumpy and skittish too! As the mother tried to keep away from Mr Grump, she brought her baby on a circuit of the waterhole and right up to the bench where we were seated.
Location: Namutoni Rest Camp, Etosha NP, Namibia
Namibia in the wintertime is still seriously hot!! Because temps plummet in the nighttime however, whenever we do find a swimming pool, it is still often icy cold! The plunge is sometimes worthwhile to cool you down ahead of a game drive in the afternoon...
Driving between the three main rest camps in Etosha gave us a good overview of Namibia's most famous park. We saw lots of giraffe, including babies, plus our first sightings of Gemsbok (oryx) and also lots of Springbok. Despite the absence of large game on our first night, we were visited by black-backed jackals patrolling the campsite, and kept awake by close-by animal noises through the night; probably lions on a kill and baboons.
Location: Caprivi strip, Namibia
Back on the truck, we spent the next few days crossing borders between Zim-Botswana-Namibia and back again, and in Rundu we also had views overlooking Angola lying just 50m across the river.
The narrow 200km long piece of land that we were traversing is called the Caprivi strip. It officially belongs to Namibia, but Angola and Botswana run parallel on either side. Getting to the Okavango Delta therefore requires multiple border post crossings. Ant is now an expert begger/negotiator as he has to implore border guards to stamp his passport in corners of used pages, as with 120 stamps, he is running out of space!
However, formalities aside, the scenery around the rivers and lakes is beautiful and we were treated to several stunning sunsets amongst the reeds, hippos and elephants. One of the highlights was balancing in the centre of a tiny Mokoro canoe, as a guide stood on the back punting us through the reeds to observe sunsets and avoiding the wildlife!
Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
We had four days of relaxation around "The Smoke That Thunders", which are as impressive as Ant remembers from the early eighties. In fact the water levels are the highest that they have been in about 15 years. But apart from a few overlanding trucks, still no tourists!
We visited the Five star Vic Falls hotel with manicured lawns leading down to an amazing view of the Batoka Gorge and the bridge that links Zambia to Zimbabwe, with the falls smoke rising to the left. The hotel is immaculate and we enjoyed an afternoon tea served on a 3-tier silver platter, presenting cucumber and lettuce sandwiches, smoked salmon roulades, fresh scones and cream and a layer of patisseries. A security guard was kept busy with his catapult trying to ward off a family of baboons that were sitting in the eaves near to some open bedroom windows!
We walked the falls on both the Zambian and Zimbabwe sides, getting absolutely soaked in the rain forest and noticed that both tourist centres still had 1980s displays (not updated) and no signs of any maps or information to hand. Essy decided to be an adrenaline junkie, so we climbed down the structure of the arching bridge and walked along the curved span attached only by a caribina rope, and we also took to the skies in a microlight to view the falls from overhead - as spectacular as the helicopter ride that we did over Iguaçu last September.
Location: Sikumi Lodge, Zimbabwe
Again, the Hwange wildlife pictures speak for themselves, but Sikumi highlights include meating a pair of lions on a long road at dawn. The female walked ahead but the male kept hiding in the bush and charging us; some excellent cam-corder footage for Essy to capture. We also saw the remains of a kill where another male had brought down two buffalo in the same night and spent the next 2 days consuming every morsel of both carcasses.
Spotted hyena, sable, steenbok, roan antelope and even a lone wild cat were all new-comers for us to tick off on the list, and Ant loved the visit to the local Wild (painted) Dog reserve.
Hwange appears to be a well kept reserve with lots of game thriving on the land, but it is a crying shame that no tourists are coming to enjoy the spectacle. Only on one night did we have any other customers at the 40 person lodge, and when we went into Hwange NP itself at dusk, we were told we had been only the second vehicle that day.
Again, hitching a lift to Vic Falls turned out to be an arduous affair; a two hour wait before Ant managed to flag down a minibus and no signs of any public transport on this main thoroughfare. The lodges/hotel infrastructure remains in place from colonial times, but without the public transport services, it makes it incredibly difficult to get tourists to the right places, unless you have your own car. One can only hope that one day, Zimbabwe will improve to ensure that its resources are made available to outsiders. What they have to offer is world-class, but the politics and lack of marketing, are stopping folk from coming to see what they have to offer. It really is a crying shame.
Location: Getting to Hwange, Zimbabwe
We felt pretty well rested after our short sleep and although it was a sky-blue, sunny day, the wind had a definite nip about it. By 10am we were pounding the streets again with rucksacks firmly on our backs. We established (with difficulty) that no regular bus company now runs between Bulawayo (the second city) and Vic Falls (the prime tourist attraction in Zim) for "economic viability" reasons. i.e. lack of tourists. So as suspected, we were back to chicken bus tactics!
We needed to get out to Etumbane Bus terminal, some 5km outside of Bulawayo, but at least this was quieter than the hectic Renkini main terminal. A taxi was therefore needed! This wasn't too difficult as many people shouted out to us when they saw us lugging bags and on foot. However, once we had accepted an offer we wondered at the wisdom. Doors opened only from the inside and as usual, there is no key. A bit of engine tinkering and hotwiring got us started and we were off. About 3km from our destination, the car conked out - no more fuel!! Ant negotiated a reduction of fare to 80,000 from the inital 200,000 and the driver flagged down a combi-van to take us the rest of the way for 40,000! The hassle-factor saved us money after all!
When we got to Etumbane, it is indeed a far-cry from the bustling Renkini station. A deserted tarmac carpark except for 1 minibus and trailer. Next were the usual tough negotiations (fuel cost, blah, blah, blah) but the best we could do was ZD 200,000 each to Hwange, despite establishing that it was only halfway to Vic Falls, and the Byo-Vic Falls price was ZD 250,000! The bus has no timetable (except you may leave when it is 120% full) so we sat for nearly 2 hours, ignoring banana / orange/ bread / coke sellers plying their wares, before we set out. Less than 5km later, we had been stopped by our third police road block. Ho hum, This Is Africa (T.I.A.)
As passenger numbers continued to rise (I thought we were full!) along with the temperature, we eventually made it to our sign post at 249km from Byo after about 4 hours. The sign pointed as expected to Sikumi tree Lodge. After 45 minutes of trudging uphill along a sandy road, we reached a sign saying "Sikumi, 4km". This wasn't particularly good news! However somebody was looking after us, as next thing we saw was a 4x4 vehicle who offered us a lift to the door! We later found out that there are no longer any park or private reserve fences, so we could well have stumbled into a herd of elephant or roaming lions. Probably best we didn't know this at the time!
Now settled into our tree house lodge, and being chaperoned by friendly and attentive staff, we are ready for more game viewing around the Sikumi forest. Again we have a local waterhole by our dining room, and saw elephant, black rhino, impala, baboons and bushbuck before the power failed so we had dinner in the dark.