Day 108: – Day 127: The Final Chapter

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I’ve been holding off on typing the final blog for some time, due to the fact that posting it means that our wonderful, frustrating, epic, tiring and awe-inspiring adventure has finally come to an end….and neither of us are still quite ready to face the real world!

Etosha National Park

After recovering from the headache induced by some warm local hospitality and a quick check up of the Zeb (again, all fine) we were on the road to Etosha National Park.

Initially we had planned for 3 days in Etosha, however after experiencing some fantastic game viewing all through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana we decided to cut our time down to one night. We spent it at Halai Camp, whilst this had been described to us as ‘run down’ by some of the travellers we had met who were on the way north, for us it was absolute bliss. It was equipped with a swimming pool, bar and a brilliant waterhole where you could site all afternoon and watch the animals coming and going.

Due to the timing of our trip, Etosha was exceptionally dry and did not offer prime viewing but we still saw some big groups of elephants, zebra, giraffe and some strange dancing ostriches. The saddest part on leaving Etosha was realising that after visiting so many game parks throughout the length of Africa – we had still not seen a rhino. While some would call this bad luck, I think it highlights how serious the issue of poaching is throughout Africa and how rare they are becoming even in what are considered ‘safe area’s’

The Skeleton Coast

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Following Etosha we headed west towards the legendary Skelton Coast. On our way we stopped at The Petrified Forest, not knowing what to expect (having researched everything BUT this in Namibia) we paid our $5 entry fee and entered, we were absolutely blown away learning that the fossilized trees we were looking at and touching were 265 million (yes million) years old. We were given a guided tour as part of our entry fee and told that the trees had survived the ice age by being frozen in central Africa and slowly arriving in Namibia once the ice had melted and the subsequent floods subsided. It was a beautiful and informative stop.

We continued on towards the Skelton Coast, entering at the Northern Conversancy border gate. Having covered as much ground as we have we’re used to deserts by this stage, however the absolute silence, emptiness and vastness of the Skeleton Coast was something completely different. After driving west for some time we reached the coast. This was an exciting moment as it meant that we had driven the width of the African continent (okay, not at its widest point….but still fairly impressive!).

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We then turned north and drove along the deserted coastal sand road towards Terrance Bay. Along the way we saw that Sand had right-of-way in this part of the world as new paths needed to be created where the sand had taken over roads – to the point where sometimes only the tops of signs were visible under a newly formed dune.

The accommodation at Terrace Bay has to be some of the remote in the world, you stay in little 70’s style cottages (the campsite only opens in December), all of which face the rugged Atlantic. It was so peaceful to sit outside watching, smelling and listening to the ocean. Dinner was included and it was a meal that would put most top London restaurants to shame, delicious and fresh seafood served over the voices of the fishermen arguing about who caught the biggest fish of the day, it’s safe to say that this is a place where time has stood still and I only hope that it stays that way.

Waking up early to the sounds of waves crashing, we drove south along the coast. The Skeleton Coast is famed for its harsh coastline that has claimed many ships and we saw quite a few shipwrecks that had washed up. Also adding to the eerie landscape was a derelict oil rig amongst the dunes where a lone jackal had set up house.

We passed the grand total of 3 cars during our drive along the Skeleton Coast, it is unbelievably remote and after the crowds, animals, noise and liveliness of some of the places we had visited throughout Africa, it was a place to find peace.

Swakopmund to Sossusvlei

Following the Skeleton Coast it was time for a bit of civilisation, in the form of multiple flat whites and café feasts in the quaint seaside town of Swakopmund. Seeing that it was rugby season we spent both evenings in the Lighthouse Pub cheering on the Springboks and the mighty All Blacks, The Namibians have fantastic taste as they all seemed to be supporting the AB’s in a very tense test match against Ireland, it was nice to chat to the locals who all adore rugby.

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We left Swakopmund and its wonderful German influence and continued south towards the dunes, after a quick stop at the Desert lodge we arrived in Sesriem, gateway to Soussusvlei. We stayed for two nights, camping the first night before opting for the comfort of air-conditioning at a lodge the second. As Soussusvlei itself has no accommodation options Sesriem is the perfect base for visiting the Pan, Petrified dunes and of course climbing the mighty Dune 45 (which is a lot harder than it looks after 4 months in a travelling Zebra!!), after a near heart attack caused by the climb we witnessed sunset over the dunes – the way the colours change and the sheer vastness you see makes the pain completely worth it…the Amarula waiting back at the accommodation also helped a bit as well!

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We also had what we call our ‘Indian Jones’ moment at the Sesriem Canyon. We spent half an hour scaling rock faces, jumping boulders and trying not to break our necks getting to the bottom of the canyon. When we finally reached it (after a knee jerking 3m jump) we walked 20metres down the canyon to see the ever so convenient and painfree stairs, whoops!! The canyon was fantastic and as entry is covered in the Soussusvlei permit it is worth a visit – just get there early as the sun by 9am was already scorching us!

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Castle to Canyon

Following the heat of Soussusvlei we drove inland towards Aus, on our way we stopped at the Duwisib Castle. The story of this property is either hopelessly romantic or very sad depending on your point of view. In the early 1900’s Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf along with his heiress of a wife built the property so they could escape Europe and start to breed horses in lonely Namibia. WWI broke out the year the property was finally finished and as the couple were en route back to Europe to collect more horse stock. Von Wolfe was called to battle and killed after two weeks and his wife never returned, leaving this building an untouched piece of history. All the original fittings and furniture still remain intack and as they were left.

After a stay in the canyon at Aus we travelled again towards the coast. We were luckily enough to see some of the wild horses on our way, believed to be to relations of the initial stock brought by von Wolf that had since gone wild.

We then called into Kolmanskopp – a deserted mining town where again time has stood still, however in this case sand hasn’t! Sand dunes have moved in and reclaimed the land meaning that the houses are half covered by the moving dunes. It’s an unnerving and eerie environment that I would not want to visit past twilight. In some cases the sand had become so dense it has broken through windows and floorboards.

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It was then onto Luderitz, like Swakopmund, this is a tiny German seaside village with bundles of charm, we stayed two nights and really relaxed walking along the rugged coastline and eating lots (and LOTS) of delicious local seafood….our last view of the ocean until we reached our final country of South Africa!

Fish River Canyon and out of Namibia

After the coast it was down to Fish River Canyon, second only in size to the Grand Canyon in USA. It was immense, and the best bit was that there was no one else around, allowing us to really get a feel for the size, depth and quietness offered by such a large space. After precariously sitting on the edge of a cliff all in the name of getting a good photo, we drove to various lookout points to try and take in its scale.

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We stayed at the Canyon Roadhouse, the perfect location as the campsite has a pool (a MUST when inland in Namibia in late November) and better yet, the most delicious and quirky diner style restaurant…a personal recommendation is the Amarula cheesecake – let’s just say it’s so good we had dessert twice!

With the heat becoming almost unbearable we then hit the road again, thankful that the zeb’s air-conditioning had lasted us the distance. We went on to Ai-Ais, a natural hot spring reserve. After again convincing the staff they should consider us locals we were given a hefty discount and took a room. While the campsite looked lovely it offered zero shade and the idea of sitting out in +40 degrees was not overly tempting. Ai Ais offered us the chance to unwind and reflect on the beauty and enjoyment of 3 weeks travelling throughout Namibia. Definitely a country I would recommend to anyone.

The next day we woke with mixed emotions – we were crossing into South Africa. Obviously we were thrilled that we had made it to country 30 on the list, but it meant that this incredible journey was a few days from ending.

We crossed into SA at Vioolsdrift and spent a few nights slowly travelling down the coast calling in at Lamberts Bay and Langbaan. We could have easily made it from the border to Cape Town in a day, but we wanted to drag out and hold onto the experience for as long as possible….

…..We made it!!!

Admitting defeat and realising it was time to end the journey of a life time, we packed up the Zeb one last time and headed for Cape Town.

Driving in from the north we saw Table Mountain start to grow and grow on the horizon, sad as we were –we both started to think about what we had both accomplished. Not just in terms of hopping in a car and driving; but…

  • Covering some of the craziest roads in Africa
  • Visiting the middle east when it was in turmoil
  • Dancing with locals at a Muslim ceremony
  • Sitting less than two metres away from a male lion as stared us down
  • Having an elephants, lions, hippos and giraffes feasting right next to us as we camped alone
  • being surrounded by men with shields
  • Having children laugh, smile and want to play with us
  • Meeting the most awe inspiring and welcoming people
  • Learning about the kindness of strangers
  • Stepping outside our comfort zone….and realising that we are stronger then we (and probably anyone who knows us) thought we could be.

The experience we had can never be summarized in full, all I can say is it really IS the trip of a lifetime!
I only hope that anyone who has taken the time to follow my blog will be inspired to step away from their normal life and travel…..there is no way you will ever regret it!

Thanks so much to everyone for following our blog; it was lovely to receive so many emails and messages of support as we were on the road.

Until our next adventure………

Talia & Wynand

x

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Day 97 – 107: Zimbabwe, Botswana and into Namibia

     What do you get when you get a Nambian, South African, Scot, Brit and Kiwi quietly watching a game of rugby….an invitation to a local braai and a very sore head the following morning!

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Big Smiles in Namibia

As we continue on our trip we are constantly surprised by the people of Africa that are warm, friendly and welcoming. We had a local absolutely insist that we, along with another couple overlanding, join him at his house for a local meal – its experiences like this that really make the trip so eye opening. Not box ticking, but really getting to know a country through it’s people, we continue to love every moment and we’re trying to ignore the fact that this is our final country (unless we just turn around and do it all over again!).

Falling in love at Victoria Falls

Along our entire trip we’ve become huge advocates for overlanding purely because of the people it allows you to meet people and have the freedom of choice you have when travelling. This was exemplified as we were at the border crossing from Zambia into Zim. We started chatting to a guy behind us who quite casually asked if we wanted to go and meet his baby, we were a bit perplexed but when the customs official told us we should go and so we agreed. We followed him to a local elephant sanctuary where we were introduced to Lucy – a 2 week old baby elephant, I was besotted! It was an incredible experience to meet her and her mother, I was also lucky enough to give her a bottle feed. We were told that Lucy’s mother was left as an orphan after the farm invasions in Zimbabwe, where the so called ‘veterans’ started killing wild animals for food and ivory. As she could not survive in the wild the sanctuary was started to support these animals and since a breeding programme has been brought in.

While its sad these elephants will never have the freedom of living in the wild, its amazing to see them on such a huge piece of land being taken care of and also becoming advocates for their species – by bringing groups of school children in to visit, they are educated not only about elephants but also the harm that poaching does. Hopefully this will lead to the vicious cycle being broken.

Victoria Falls

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With my new best friend Lucy

After what has to be the best introduction to any of the countries we’ve visited, we reluctantly waved goodbye to Lucy and headed towards the Falls hoping it would redeem itself after the measly trickle we saw from the Zambian side. Even being dry season the falls from this side were intense – we got soaked watching them from the opposite side (basically what we had had been expecting the previous day!).

After the falls we drove through Victoria Falls town, its very quaint and colonial and reminds be a lot of Arrowtown in New Zealand. After a recommendation we headed to Boma restaurant for lunch where we feasted on Warthog (The Disney fan inside be had a huge attack of the guilts for eating Pumba – but I can’t lie….it was delicious). Following this we decided we needed a proper rest so checked into a local hotel that overlooked a waterhole. We spent the afternoon on the veranda sipping drinks and watching crocodiles, antelope and hippos – bliss!

For dinner we decided to head back to Boma where we had a typical Zimbabwean feast (and when I say ‘typical’ it was the most touristy experience we’ve had so far!) we were dressed up in local fabrics and watched a group of dancers before having a drumming lesson…whilst not very authentic compared to some other experiences we’ve had with locals on this trip it was still a great (and filling) night out.

Botswana

We left Zim and headed into Botswana, greeted by lots of friendly smiles we drove to Kassana which is the northern base for visitors to Chobe National Park. We spent the afternoon relaxing at the Chobe Safari Lodge, the best bit about this was that because there is a hotel attached you get a pool, bar, lounge and view – all for the camping price of $5, result!

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Racing away from us in Chobe

The next day we stocked up on food and headed into Chobe National park, again the wildlife was incredible, however my favourite spot of day one was a desert turtle plodding along through the sand making a getaway at about 0.5km/h. We camped at Linyani Camp which is located in the north, the campsite while basic was in a stunning location on the delta, offering us a fabulous sunset to the sound of hippos and birds.SAMSUNG CSC

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Sand driving – Chobe

While Chobe is brilliant for game viewing and camp spots, the driving is fairly tough going with 1 foot deep powder sand in a lot of places, so it took a while to get anywhere – but of course the Zeb could handle it 😉

Day two in Chobe, we were driving across an open plain scattered with a few scrubs, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. We stopped the car and saw that it was a tiny elephant (not much bigger than Lucy) by itself and running blindly, it was making the most heart-breaking whimpering noises and was clearly petrified. It ran to within 2 metres of the car before backing away and continuing on. As we looked where it had come from we saw a Leopard creeping between some of the bushes, clearly on the prowl for the lost baby. As we took a few photos the leopard stopped under a tree before continuing on its way, we couldn’t bring ourselves to stick around to see what happened but the optimist in me likes to think the baby got away safe and was reunited with its herd (fingers crossed anyway).

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Baby elephant lost in Chobe

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We finally spotted a Leopard!

 

Following Chobe we headed to Maun and the Island Safari Campsite, again this was located on the delta and a great camp location as a base outside the park. Unfortunately for us there were about 7 tour groups camping over the same period, while the tourists were fine – the noisy drivers got a not so polite request to be quiet from Wynand around midnight on the second evening. Still, it was a great location to do the boring chores of washing, trying to de-dust and preparing ourselves for Namibia.

Into Namibia

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Ngepi Campsite

We arrived into Namibia with mixed emotions, for me its one of the places I’ve been looking forward to the most, and fro Wynand it’s a chance to revisit the country he was based in during his national service, however its also the last country on our list before arriving into South Africa so it means out trip is gradually coming to a close.

Our first 3 nights were spent in the Caprivi Strip, a tiny area that separates Botswana and Angola. We stayed firstly at Ngepi Campsite, one of the best campsites I have ever been to. It very quirky and well facilitated with individual bush ablution blocks, and they have a floating pool in the Okavango river which means you get up close and personal with some of the crocodiles and hippos in the river.

On our second day we were standing on the river bank with Wynand explaining the dynamics of Ant Lions to me (I’m a patient person!) when suddenly out of the tree I was standing next to shot a mouse, quickly followed by a very long, dark snakes tail whipping around close to my shoulder…I think it took me less than half a second to react and I was gone, I’m sure I ran 20metres in 2 seconds before finally reaching our car and collapsing into a shaking, crying hysterical ball. Wynand of course thought this was hilarious and went to get a guard to help him wrangle it, on returning the guard said ‘uh-uh I’m not going anywhere near that….it’s a black mamba’!  Now for anyone who doesn’t know, the black mamba is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, so in hindsight my reaction was perfectly justified. It was around 2.5m long and as we went close to the tree to have another look half its body lay horizontally away from the truck with its head swerving from side to side looking at us as the rest of its body climbed higher away from our reach. We moved the roof tent away from any surrounding trees, but following that it wasn’t the most peaceful sleep I’ve had during the trip…and those quirky outdoor showers lost a bit of their charm!

Following this traumatic experience we drove to Tsumke via Mangeti Dune, both of which are ex- military bases Wynand served in during his national service. On arriving in Mangeti Dune Wynand was beyond shocked to see that all the buildings remained and the town looked the same. Even down to the parade grounds and his old house which still had the same hole in the bathroom window punched in it by a drunk medic during one of the many parties held during this time. Mind blowing to think that he served there 24 years ago! We went into what was the sick bay (now a police station) and got talking to a local woman who was fascinated that not only had Wynand served here – but that he was back so many years later. It turns out that her current bedroom is the room he slept in during his overnight shifts.

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Wynand back at Mangeti Dune

After Mangeti we stopped in at Aasvoelsnes which sadly has fallen into disrepair. While there some Khoi San (bush men) children ran out to see what was going on, through English and Afrikaans we asked if they would count to 10 in Khoi San, very quietly and shyly the group of around 12 did so, it was so amazing to hear the language which comprises mostly of clicks and soft murmuring – it’s beautiful to hear. Although shy, when I asked if it was okay to take a photo they were suddenly all smiles and posing and happy to oblige. We drove on to Tsumke which again is very barren, bored of the games we had brought we constructed a game of ‘desert boules’ using rocks and sticks – much to the amusement of the campers around us, I think they thought we were nuts.

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Mangeti Dune

It was a great experience for both of us to visit this region, for Wynand – seeing where he served and meeting locals that all seemed thankful that he had been in the army and impressed he would treavl so far to come and revisit. For me – to visit somewhere I’ve heard so much about and to really step back in time and see a traditional way of life.

As we continue on through Nambia and south things will no doubt become very western, but its lovely to visit these villages and see the smiles and happiness that a simple way of life brings.

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Hobe Meteorite

  • Seeing a Black Mamba will turn you into a world class runner
  • There are no rules when it comes to border crossings, have about 3 currencies on you and that way at least one will (hopefully) be accepted, as we entered Namibia they, unlike the rest of Africa, don’t accept USD at customs and have no ATM’s, so we had to go back to Botswana and get more pula before we could continue into the Caprivi
  • We are so very fortunate to have seen the amount of elephants we’ve encountered this trip. This won’t last unless something changes….if you’re reading this and you would like to do something please donate to the endangered Wildlife Trust via our blog or via their website.

Day 85 – 96: Malawi and Zambia

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It has to be said that the last few weeks have been, for me personally, some of the most magic, thrilling, tiring, exhausting but all around awe inspiring of my life.

Many people come to Africa, but I’ve realised recently how few actually experience her properly. The joy of overlanding isn’t about the perfect photo, a comfortable bed or even knowing where you will end up tomorrow – it’s about seeing, experiencing and living a country through its people, and the past few weeks have made me proud and privileged that we have come so far on our journey. Yes it’s hard, yes we could do with a good shower….but overlanding through Africa is one of the most personally rewarding experiences you will ever have.

Into Malawi

There seems to be a common thread in my blog with border crossings, while from Kenya south we have been trouble free – nothing could prepare us for the complete ‘un-stress’ that was arriving in Malawi. Not only does everyone smile and look genuinely happy to welcome you…the immigration office was blasting out a Bob Marley in Concert DVD, certainly a sign of the relaxed and happy atmosphere to follow as we entered ‘The warm heart of Africa’.

Our first two nights were spent camping at Sangilo Lodge, for anyone who has seen ‘The long way down’ series, this is where Ewan and Charlie stayed in Malawi. Set on Lake Malawi it made for a picturesque camp spot, we ended up walking along the lake and meeting a group of young boys (aged 5-11) who were absolutely fascinated with Wynand, who spent a good hour or so playing with them, chasing them into the waves and teaching them the art of a good high five! One thing we’ve noticed in Africa is that only Mzungu’s wear sunglasses, so we would look at the boys and them quickly whip our sunnies off while the boys dissolved into giggles at out apparently hilarious blue eyes…it was very cute. Being at the lake was a family affair with the woman and girls doing the household washing whole the older men were fishing, all welcomed us and would come up to chat with whatever English they knew (which was a lot, I was impressed considering it was a Thursday afternoon and no one was at school!).

Following Sangilo we stuck to the lake and travelled south to Mkuzi beach, again it was a brilliant camp spot on the beach. On our second day a group of nurses arrived on a day trip (a lovely sponsor had given them the day off to come and enjoy so time by the lake). They quickly rounded me up and put me through some netball paces, which I failed terribly much to their amusement.

Our final stop in Malawi was Cool Runnings in Senga Bay, run by a woman called Sam Luddick who can only be described as an angel!
Sam’s mission is to improve the lives of those who live in the area, she runs a local football club, puts boys through school, teaches about the effects of HIV/Aids and helps at a Pallative Clinic amongst other things (if you want to see more of what she does look up ‘Cool Runnings Malawi’ on Facebook). After talking to Sam we quickly decided we wanted to do something, anything, to help. So she rubbed her hands together with glee and took us down to the blood bank. For cultural reasons, giving blood is not the done thing in Africa, meaning there are zero reserves in places like Salema Hospital. It took nothing out of our day, and very little out of our bodies, but it was nice to do something that would actually make a difference to someone’s lives. Following a few too many chocolate biscuits for recovery we drove to the clinic. Here we met with some locals that suffer both HIV and cancer, the effect and toll on their bodies doesn’t go unnoticed, but before you notice any physical conditions you see a smile and receive and warm hug or handshake. When you know what these strong people are going through and that they can still smile it really puts things into perspective. We tried to help where we could, painting nails, playing cards and just making the day more enjoyable for them before saying goodbye to them, Sam and Malawi and heading to the Zambian border.

 10km away from Zambia we got pulled over by a police check point, who told us our insurance was expired (it wasn’t, when we had it issued in Uganda they initially made an error then typed over with the correct date). We were told we instantly had to go to court to get this sorted, by no uncertain terms were we going with anyone to any court in any foreign country, so we patiently explained that we have months up our sleeve and the facilities to camp on the side of the road until he realized the error of his ways. While this might sound cheeky – we’ve come across enough cops hinting at a bribe to make everything better that we just don’t tolerate it. After an hour and a half of standoff, Mr Cop outside the car telling us with bulging eyes to follow him to court and us inside with calming aircon and some nice music saying’ oh no thank you we’d rather not’ we finally agreed to go to the police station instead of the court house. The police station Chief took one look at the paperwork and agreed with us that yes it was valid, so again we were on our way. Not before waving goodbye to the surprisingly cheerful prisoners in the cell behind the main desk…we thought it best to be friendly in case anyone changed their mind and decided to keep us for the night.

10k’s down the road and the shortest border crossing yet, we were into Zambia!!!!

Zambia

With only 6 weeks in total to plan our entire trip, some places were always going to be left to ‘plan as we go’, Zambia was definitely one of those places, we honestly had no idea what to expect and have just been blown away by every single aspect of the country.

We arrived late at Chipata where we camped at Mama Rula’s owned by Beatrice, Beat is a wealth of knowledge and possibly one of the loveliest women you could sit and share a beer with.
Initially we had planned Zambia as a bit of a dash through, but once Beat had grabbed her maps and started talking about everything on offer we decided to extend.

Our first stop was South Luangwa National Park, we camped at the Croc Valley farm which has fabulous facilities and a spectacular view across a semi dry river bed towards the park. We had already heard fantastic things so were holding out for some more incredible game viewing. We decided to go on an evening game drive rather than self-drive as we had down in Kenya and The Serengeti. As South Luangwa is a lot smaller than other game parks and with viewer tourist numbers, there are a lot more viewing opportunities.

Again we saw hundreds of amazing animals, the best sighting of the night (and of our trip so far) was coming across a pride of lions who, having already had a kill that day, had stopped to kill a buffalo on their way to the waterhole. As they were full we could drive close until we were about 3 metres from them as they lapped up the water. We then went to their most recent kill where the cubs were eating away and playing with the dead carcass. After a good hour of watching the interaction we went to leave when our guide spotted a herd of elephants approaching and while everyone else drove away, we knew that something was about to happen. As we watched, the elephants marched towards the lions in single file, once they had passed and ensured the younger ones were safe the matriarch stormed into the pride sending them scattering. The sound the elephants made was intense, and I’m sure it echoed around the park – it was Mother Nature at her best!!

Putting The Zeb to good use

The next day by chance stumbled across a pack of wild dogs (around 15), these are so incredibly rare to spot but we managed to get close enough to see them laze in the sun and play fight each other in the water. Wynand had been hoping to see one on the trip, so coming across such large numbers was a really rewarding bonus.

We then set off to North Luangwa, figuring that the drive between the two parks would be a doddle and we would arrive for a nice lunch at another well-equipped campsite…..wrong!

The drive consisted of deep sand, dry riverbeds, desolate forests and a few isolated villages in-between for good measure – I kept commenting to Wynand that the only way to describe some of the landscape was that you keep expecting a headless horseman to appear out of nowhere! The Zeb stayed in 4×4 mode for the entire trip and it was extremely tough going, however quite exciting to be back doing some proper off-roading rather than just dealing with horrible corrugated roads for a change.

Finally after a good 4 hours of hard going we reached the turn off to the next destination, the buffalo camp, only to be told it had closed the day before and we had to turn back and take a detour to another camp on the banks of North Luangwa. Disheartened, frustrated and with a Garmin offering little help in knowing any alternative we set off – backtracked and looped around to find the new camp. When we reached a thorn bush growing over the road it became apparent how little this particular track was used and Wynand relished the chance to hack a path through with his machete. Finally we reached our destination, a pontoon campsite (community based) set up overlooking a dry riverbed. It was little to offer in terms of facilities so we made a quick dinner and turned in early…spending the evening feeling very isolated with nothing but the sounds of lions keeping us company.

Kapishya and Kasanka

After hearing the lions the previous night, I was on form packing up camp the next morning – we got away early and headed through North Luangwa to the next destination we had been told to visit – Kapisha Hot Springs.

We arrived dusty, dirty and I’m sure very smelly to what can only be described as an Oasis – The Kapisha Hot Springs are situated in North West Zambia and offer a brilliant place to relax for a few nights. We were entertained by Michael and had two great nights chatting and learning about what brought a lovely Irishman like himself to Zambia.

The hot springs themselves were lovely, crystal clear and without any sulphur smell – it was utter bliss and worth a visit.

The Bat Migration

Leaving Kapisha we were heading south again, this time calling in at Kasanka National Park. By sheer luck we had timed our visit to Zambia to coincide with the biggest migration of mammals on the planet – bats!

Every November fruit bats from all over Africa (Congo, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania etc) merge at this one spot for feeding, how and why still seems to be undetermined but it really is a phenomenal spectacle. We asked what time the bats would start flying, and told that it would be 6pm. So 6 o’clock on the dot, 3 million bats started swarming above our heads as they flew in, circled and landed. They do this morning and evening with the numbers increasing by around 200,000 each time – with the total numbers reaching 10million.

Not on our original ‘to do’ list but seriously one of the coolest (and oddest) things either of us have seen.

After watching the migration we set up camp, again with no one or nothing around us but national park and some noisy animals. We made a fire and relaxed to the sounds of Africa (well, that’s a lie – Wynand relaxed, I sat scared out of my skin!).

Heading west

After a quick nights rest in Lusaka (and celebrating the joys of western style supermarkets) we got back on track with our initial route – heading west towards Livingston. Livingston has everything going for it, great boat cruises, all the bars, restaurants and supermarkets you could want – the only thing that lets it down is Victoria Falls!

After paying our entry fee and walking to the falls we were utterly disappointed, because we had come in the dry season the raging waterfall was nothing but a trickle – however from the Zambia side we could see that along the gorge in Zimbabwe the falls were pumping, so we’ll make a visit from that side and see them in more of their glory.

Tomorrow we’ll be crossing into Zim and then onto Botswana, from there its Namibia and finally into SA…our trip of a lifetime is ticking over nicely but with the number of countries dwindling down, the scary thought of returning to the ‘real world’ is becoming more real….don’t make us stop travelling!!!

What I’ve learnt so far:

1)      Travel is made by the people, whether it be villagers who give you directions, ex pats and their own incredible stories, or locals doing their best to help the communities around them. Its so nice to be able to interact and learn from everyone we have met.

2)      You don’t t need a big name to have an incredible game experience, for anyone wanting to do a safari look no further then Zambia

3)      African children are the best, all are happy, smiling and really excited to come and chat and welcome you. A far cry from western kiddies who sit behind computer screens and don’t interact. While they don’t have much, they relish in the simple pleasures in life….and that is something we can all learn from

xx

 

 

 

Day 64 – 84: Tanzania

A bit of a delay on blog posting – apologises dear readers I would love to tell you it’s due to some very hectic, totally hard core African over landing experience, but the truth is – we’re in Tanzania resting and recuperating and generally ignoring our ‘traveller’ tags and just enjoying a bit of a holiday for a while!

Having been in Tanzi for close to three weeks, the trials and tribulations of North Africa are slowly becoming a thing of the past, going north to south and getting the ‘hard stuff’ out of the way (that we know of!) seems to have been a great plan.

Arrival Tanzania

Arrival Tanzania – the crossing over from Rwanda took us less than an hour, considering our previous blog updates about border crossings anything less than half a day spent trying to get out of one country and into another in considered easy so we left immigration happy and ready to see what Eastern Africa’s biggest country had to offer.

Our first night’s sleep was just a pit stop, having made up time at the crossing we decided to drive until nightfall – we reached Geita, a mining town in the North West on the road from Rwanda to the Serengeti. While there wasn’t much on offer in the town we had a great night meeting some locals at the Kilimanjaro Motel we pulled into (the option of bush camping didn’t really expose itself and campsites are few and far between in this area), whilst driving I managed to remove the cornrows I had put in while in Kigali so my amazing Afro was the talk of all the waitresses who kept wanting to touch it and laugh at/with me about it. The night was made better by the text updates keeping us informed on the Rugby Championship final – which the mighty All Blacks won of course (sorry Wynand!).

Following Geita we made a plan to drive to the north-western gate of the Serengeti, camping outside meant we could get a full day’s worth of game viewing once we entered the Serengeti. The route involved a short ferry ride across an inlet of Lake Victoria from Busisi to Mwanza Port – for £3 for the Zeb and 2 passengers we considered this 45min option a lot better than driving the additional 4 hours the bypass road would have taken.

With the ferry journey complete we stopped at Mwanza to stock up on camping food and diesel – Mwanza is a large city with a few western style supermarkets so it makes a great final shopping point before entering the Game Reserve as there isn’t much on offer once you get through the gates.

We camped that night at The Serengeti Rest Camp and we were outside the Entrance Gates the next morning bright and early at 7am with zoom lenses and the Lion King soundtrack at the ready –  bring on some game viewing!

A Lion King lover’s dream

We arranged to spend 3 days camping in Serengeti National Park, although it was October (generally a month too late) we had our fingers crossed that we might catch a glimpse of the last of the wildebeest migration. We also had our fingers crossed that we would finally see a lion in Africa so we figured 3 days would be enough to tick both boxes.

We were instantly blown away as we drove into the park – the landscape, for want of a better phases, really is just so African! Long vast plains with animals grazing, baobab trees, waterholes and lush hills in the distance, It really is what you imagine a game park to look like.

Before even arriving at our camp we were stopped by another game vehicle and told that there were 4 male lions in the vicinity, we backtracked and took turns driving and spotting before finally finding them chilling out in the shade of a bush. Having gone off the main track (but still on the outlined paths) we were away from everyone and everything – it was amazing to see such large animals in the wild so close. We stopped for close to 20minutes and just watched them as the rolled around getting comfortable, every now and then they would peak up and look at us before resuming their positions, no doubt resting before going on the prowl that evening.

With one box ticked we happily continued on towards our camp, before long our car was surrounded either side by herds and herds of wildebeest taking their time to migrate, again we were so close to the animals, this time with the unfortunate side effect of experiencing the scent! We also quickly established that about half the Zebra in the Serengeti are affected by a personality disorder – they seem to think they are wildebeest and try to join the packs travelling – so we like to think our vehicle was quite incognito amongst the animals!

Two from two we were happy with our first venture into the Serengeti – the last surprise of the day came as we were close to our game spot and came across a group of elephants (including a very teenie newborn) enjoying a mud bath – I could have watched the family dynamics for hours but instead we had to get to camp and set up before it got too dark.

Our first night, I lay awake trying to listen out for animals over the sounds of Wynand’s snoring. Eventually I heard a very faint crunching noise the gradually became louder and louder – I sat up and peaked out the net of our roof tent only to see a huge Elephant Bull 5 metres away eating from the tree we had parked next to. With the sounds of us rustling around sitting up to get a good view he obviously heard us and looked our direction several times – but he was happy with his midnight snack and after about 10minutes wandered off into the Serengeti, leaving me unable to sleep from excitement for quite a while!

Day 2 and we woke to find giraffes feeding close to camp, so while we sat had had our cornflakes – they stood nearby having their leaves. Unfortunately some people on a tour group saw them and thought they could walk right up and get a photo with them which scared them off, seriously, it’s not a zoo people!!

Off we set and again we lucky with what we saw – hippos, elephants, hartebeest, cheetah, zebra, hyenas, lechwe, kudu, antelope and buffalo. But the spot of the day was when we were driving along and in the grass I saw two big brown eyes looking out at me ‘stop…ahh..wait…eerr…LLl..lll…LION’!!! Finally I managed to spit the word out and we reversed to see a large female sitting 5 metres away from us, very placidly chilling out. Again we were completely alone so could just sit and watch her – two lion spots in two days, we were happy with that! We continued on and treated ourselves to a drink stop at Migration Camp which sits overlooking a valley – here we saw thousands upon thousands on wildebeest moving like a dark river over the opposite hill as part of the migration, the waiter explained that due to the course they took – there were about 15 lions in the area that would come to hunt at night. In fact a few weeks earlier he had come within 15metres of one as he returned to his staff quarters one evening, he says he has never run so fast in his life – cant say I blame him!

We returned to camp we throughout the course of the night we heard hyenas, sounding a little too close for comfort and woke to birdsong. It was pure, utter African bliss.

One thing to note if you are planning to self-drive the Serengeti is the roads are horrific, they are almost on par with the Moyale to Masrabit road that both of us vowed we wouldn’t do again. Due to the state of the roads our poor roof tents temporary fix finally gave way – meaning that Wynand had to climb out of the car and strap it back on. Being the loving and supportive person that I am -I sat safety and firmly inside on ‘lion watch’ while he did it!

With the roof tent needing some urgent attention we limped out of The Serengeti via Ngorogoro park and headed to Arusha for a hot shower and some maintenance work.

Arusha, Moshi and on to the coast

We spent two days in Arusha while the roof tent was fixed, here we met Fanie from Namibia who was on his way north (again – he seemed to like driving through Africa, who could blame him!) we swapped stories before getting the Zeb back and taking a short drive into Moshi.

In Moshi we finally caught up with Rich and Sophie along with their little beaut of a car ‘Kylie’, the two set off from Sydney and aim to be in London by Christmas. After many emails and blog posts it was so nice to finally meet them face to face, swap stories and hear what was in store for us as we continued south.

Rich and Sophie’s first suggestion was that we head to Peponi Beach for some beachside camping. We planned on staying one night and ended up being there for 3. $5 a night, brilliant facilities, delicious restaurant …and you’re camping right on the Indian Ocean, it was perfect. We had a few hard decisions to make (beach/pool, beer/wine, fish/chicken) before deciding to be a bit more active and heading out on a boat for some snorkelling and a visit to a tidal sandbar island. Our last decent beach encounter was in Israel so it felt nice to be back by the ocean again.

We finally managed to drag ourselves away and get into Dar es Salaam, no mean feat as Dar has to be the worst traffic we’ve encountered to date in a city. It seemed to take forever to get nowhere but eventually we arrived at the Toyota Service centre where we waved goodbye to the Zeb, she was going in for a full check-up and to kill time – we figured we may as well hit up Zanzibar!

Zanzibar

After a night in downtown Dar we caught an early ferry over to Zanzibar where we arrived in Stone Town. If Marrakech had a beach – I imagine it would look like this. Big stone/wood buildings, rooftop bars, tiny alleyways, lively market places and of course gorgeous beaches. We stayed for one night at the Swahili House which happened to coincide with Eid, the Muslim festival celebrating the return from Mecca. The whole town was out celebrating with the ladies dressed to the 9’s in colourful dresses – it was a stunning (and noisy!) affair.

The next morning we headed up the coast to Nungwe where we stayed at Langi Langi, my friend had recommended it to us and we weren’t disappointed. The appeal of Zanzibar is that although you go to relax – it doesn’t feel like a big resort town. People still have personalities and the locals are game for a laugh – it’s extremely chilled, that coupled with the fact it has the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen has put it high on our listed of places we’ll return to.

Sadly the time came where we reluctantly had to leave, we both contemplated growing dreadlocks and becoming beach hippies – but we figured the Zeb would miss us too much. As she was parked out by the airport we worked out that for the price of the ferry and taxi we could fly back to Dar and save about 3 hours sitting in traffic, so we boarded a small 9 seater aircraft and in 20minutes were back on the mainland ready to be reunited with the Zeb.

The wonders of the Hilux

We were full of dread as we walked into Toyota, after all our poor car has been through 19,000km, some serious off-roading, me being allowed behind the wheel, and what has to be considered some of the worst ‘roads’ imaginable since we left London (keeping in mind she had already driven Cape Town to Norway with her previous owners). So we stood, listening to the diagnosis with our jaws on the floor – with the exception of the stabilising arm that needed to be slightly tightened, NOTHING was wrong. This little Zebra is the business!

Off we headed, almost giddy with excitement that what we thought would be a complete overhaul just turned out to be a service.

We’ve spent two days heading south west, camping at Tan-Swiss and The Old Farm House. Our next destination is Malawi – considered to be ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. We’re looking forward to a new country, more adventure, meeting more fabulous travellers and seeing just what sort of off-road adventure it takes to crack this gem of a Zeb!

What I’ve learnt so far:

  • The Serengeti is a phenomenal experience, however to do it independently in a non-Tanzanian registered car is costly. Its also important to know (which we didn’t) that when you enter the Serengeti you can’t also pay for your entry to Ngorogoro Park upfront – however the gate keepers will tell you its possible and take your money meaning you pay twice. Buyer Beware!
  • Traffic Police are everywhere in Tanzania so keep an eye on the speed limit, also for residential areas that aren’t marked but you are expected to know to slow down. We managed to get pulled over 4 times (but talked ourselves out of a fine twice!). The flat rate is 30,000TNS (£12).
  • Nothing beats a coconut fish curry, cold Kilimanjaro beer and the sound of the Indian Ocean at night!! xx

Day 52 – Day 64: Kenya, Uganda and onto Rwanda

Our arrival into Rwanda from Uganda today has been one of the most extremes of our whole journey, from heart-warming to heart wrenching we have certainly been through the wringer with emotions. Im starting to learn that anyone who travels to Africa cant do it unless they know how emotionally instated they will people with both the place and its people.

Following on from my last blog, we were freezing at 4500m above sea level in The Bale Mountains in Ethiopia. As fun as that was we needed to leave before our visas expired and continue on the road further south, next stop – Kenya and Uganda!

Bye Bye Bale

After a gruelling drive from Bale Mountains we decided to settle on a piece of land, around 190km north of the border crossing between Ethiopia and Kenya. Close to us was a small village consisting of a few grass huts, but by the time we had parked and started to unpack word had travelled that some unfamiliar faces were present. With no common language between us and only the use of sign language we established that ‘yes’ it was okay to camp the night. After much smiling and nodding to the lovely men with their shields and spears we slowly realised that although it was fine for us to stay – they weren’t going to leave us alone until they were good and ready.

Eventually I opened my book and Wynand cracked open a beer – still they stood about 10m away from us watching. We figured out we had an audience and there was no way we were going to get rid of them. Wynand popped open our shower tent (basically a 4-walled roofless cubicle) and started having a shower with a bucket of water inside, being 6’2 his head was sticking out the top and yet they still just stood and watched us. As someone who constantly walks around with the good grace to feel mildly awkward at all times, I found their lack of subtlety and awkwardness in social situations (particularly bathing) very un-nerving. However that’s part of their way, finally they left us in peace and as annoying and odd as it was – at least they didn’t put those spears to use and drive us away!

Arrival Kenya

The next morning we hit the border between Ethiopia and Kenya bright and early. Travel wise the crossing was a breeze. However, like most border crossings we’ve encountered, the token television was on in the corner – being absent form internet and mobile date it was only at the crossing that we heard news of the terror playing out at The Westgate Mall in Nairobi. At this stage it was into day 2, and with only hazy news available we decided to keep our wits about us and continue on.

Our next stop was the town of Marsabit, 250km from the boarder of Moyale. 250km on normal roads… a breeze, 250km in the Zeb – pffft easy! However 250km on THIS notorious ‘road’ was possibly the scariest thing either of us has experienced drive-wise. With dust swirling around both inside and outside, the corrugated roads were extremely tough to manoeuvre – especially when the pots holes the length of the roads crept up. Due to the level of dust we had a few near encounters with trucks coming the other way, it was stressful for driver, passenger and Zebra but we luckily made to our campsite in one piece.

Choking back the dust and seriously regretting choosing to wear white, we arrived and Henry and Rosana’s Camping & Guest House in Marsabit. We were greeted by the lady Rosana herself who took one look at our dusty, sweaty, shaking selves that she quickly rushed and doubled the amount of beers in the fridge. We spent the evening chatting with an Australian couple who were spending a year driving through Africa with their two boys – ages 5 & 8.

Elephants, giraffe and Zebra (oh my!)

Day two in Kenya and we departed early to get to the Samburu National Reserve, cruising along on a slightly less hectic (although very bumpy road) we were enjoying the ride … that is until I caught our beloved roof tent (aka our HOUSE) slipping off the roof at 80km/h and tumbling down a bank due to a cracked bracket and faulty screws. This was less than ideal and so far our most unexpected and scary delay of the trip so far.

NB: A word of warning to all overlanders, do NOT use Frogs Island 4×4. After a quick call to the manufacturer of the tent we discovered that they had offered to install the tent for free and with that a guarantee that the installation is to the right standard. Frogs Island refused the FREE installation and opted rather to install it themselves and to charge us for it and to add insult to injury, they botched the installation. If that wasn’t bad enough – we received no return phone call to see if we were okay and safe while stranded without a place to sleep in Kenya….and then they tried to place the blame somehow on us. I personally would expect a lot more from a company that call themselves overlanding professionals!! That said, the manufacturers were more than helpful and really put our minds at rest and did everything that they could to help from a distance.

Eventually with some heavy lifting in the dust (and more regret of wearing white – when will I learn?!) The roof tent was strapped down to The Zeb and we slowly and painfully continued en route to Samburu National Reserve.

Samburu National Reserve & Beautiful Kenya

Within 5 minutes of driving through the gates of Samburu we had our first of many ‘Wow’ moments that we would come across over the next few days. Around 15 elephant’s walked across the path in front of us, around 7metres from The Zeb in single file. It reminded me so much of Colonel Hathi’s March on The Jungle Book.

With camping out of the questions we spent the next 2 evenings at a tented lodge within the park. From here we set out on a few games drives each day, lucky enough to have several up close encounters with Elephants, Zebra, Cheaters, Warthogs, Ostrich’s, Impala, Giraffe and Oryx. We even managed to catch a giraffe fight which has to be one of the most tedious yet somehow graceful showdowns out of any animal. Sadly we missed seeing a Lion (by all accounts we were the only people in the park to miss them one evening) but hopefully we can tick that box somewhere else as our journey continues.

Both evenings we were joined for dinner by Lisa and Bill, an American couple who live in Saudi. Fantastic company who I’m sure we’ll be in touch with in the future…. (Lisa I’m blaming you for my sore head each morning 😉

Luckily while we were at Samburu news of our wayward roof tent spread and a group of maintenance staff from a neighbouring camp came to our rescue and offered a temporary fix.  Wynand went off to a bush workshop and with some steel wire and lots of sweat, our tent was back on the roof and working again.

After reliving many scenes from The Lion King it was time to leave Samburu and head towards Uganda. On our way we stopped for 2 nights at Lake Nakuru where we rested and relaxed as well as ate our body weight in delicious samosas.

Thoughout our journey we tried to keep as up to date with what was happening in Nairobi as we could. It wasn’t until we stayed at the Kivu campsite in Nakuru that we were able to understand in full what the terrorists had done and how. It was interesting talking to Kenyan people about this – instead of being sad or scared (as I would probably would) they stood proud and resilient and were happy to discuss what had happened and they saw it as envy from more confined states as they are able to live relatively happy and free lives.

Uganda we go!

As we drove away from yet another simple border crossing between Kenya and Uganda we thought it fitting to have ‘Circle of Life’ Blaring from the Zeb, unsure if the locals appreciated this judging by the looks we got – but it added to the excitement of reaching yet another African country.

From the border we had a simple drive to Jinja – The starting point of The White Nile. Here we camped at Haven, where USD$10 will get you a swimming pool, hot shower, cold beer and a view across the river to the rapids – bliss!. We spent two nights here – the first evening Wynand was more than a little ecstatic to discover that the rugby was on so we watched the Springbocks thrash Australia (already we’re trying to find somewhere we can watch the final between NZ & SA this coming Saturday). The next day we ventured out for a horse trek along the river and through some local villages, amazing experience even if I wasn’t as good at riding as I remember and almost fell off mid canter! It was a nice way to get out and see some of the sights as well as interact with some of the locals.

We could have easily spent another few days in Jinja, but with the time constraints of Kilimanjaro looming we decided to press on and will no doubt do lots of the activities on offer in Jinja (rafting, kayaking, bungy etc) at Victoria Falls instead.

Following Jinja we had a rest stop in Kampala (just another African city) before we carried on to Mburo National Park. Here we camped on the outskirts of the park at Rwakobo Rock Lodge, built on top of a huge rock and overlooking the park. It was a stunning find and a beautiful, peaceful place to relax. Being the only ones staying there –we had the open air lounge room to ourselves to laze about in the hammocks and relax over scrabble and wine.

It was then a slow start before arriving in Kisoro, again we camped and at night went in to the village where the locals were all friendly and interested in greeting us and making us feel welcome. The next day we travelled out of Kisoro to an area on our ‘Tracks 4 Africa’ marked ‘Pygmy Village’, although only 10km away it took a long time to fine, the village was far off the beaten track and we had to employ a local to show us how to get there over the farmland. It was worth the effort as soon as we arrived all the villagers (maybe 60 odd) game out to greet us, the chief then greeted us and told us we were welcome in his village and they would like to perform for us…it was incredible! They did 3 song/dances, the final one 2 people joined in who had gone to dress up as gorillas. It was great to get such a cultural experience without it being touristy or exploitive – they were just happy to greet us and show us their culture.

After this it was straight onto the border to cross in Rwanda.

Rwanda

After passing through the border we drove directly to Kampala and the Genocide Memorial and Museum. For obvious reasons this was always going to be a tough day, but in all honestly I had NO idea the extent of the genocide, the means used to cause harm, how it was brought on by certain countries and how easily it could have been resolved or prevented. I still can’t get my head around the fact that this atrocity happened in my lifetime.

Prior to leaving London I watched a documentary with Ewan McGregor visiting one of the churches attacked during the genocide. When he asked a local man (a survivor) why the world hadn’t come to help he replied ‘Kurt Cobain had just shot himself and the World Cup was on’, he didn’t say this bitterly or with resentment, simply stating the fact that the world’s attention didn’t reach this tiny African Nation. I feel like a hypocrite saying this as I myself was far from educated on the fact – please read up on what happened here, one million people slaughtered within 3 weeks. It’s heart-breaking and extremely hard to comprehend in such a stunning and kind country, but is something that should never be forgotten.

So after a pretty intense afternoon I’m sitting in beautiful Kigali – looking forward to seeing what this rebuilt nation has to offer.

What I’ve learnt so far:

1)      A sense of awkwardness is not a universal feeling.

2)      Campsites in Africa (so far) have been phenomenal – pools, hot showers and cheap prices!

3)      Meeting locals (proper locals – not tourist trail locals) is one of the most eye-opening and exciting things ever, somehow language, religion etc does not matter. Both parties are equally as interested in each other and it’s a wonderful experience to have

 

Day 45 – Day 51: Out of the frying pan and into the flora

After the intense heat of Sudan it feels strange to be writing my next blog curled up in the our roof tent, 4,400 metres above sea level, craving a hot chocolate and freezing!

We left Khartoum after an interesting few days, the most memorable experience being a visit to the Whirling Dervishes, a sect of the Muslim culture that partake in dancing and chanting every Friday. It was a great experience to see and even nicer to be made welcome to watch this tradition even through it is not our religion. We joined several locals for tea – unsure what they put in the brew but Wynand ended up creating his own version of the local dance much to the tearooms amusement – even more so when some of the woman joined him for a dance off!

After finally getting the Zeb back with a clean bill of health it was time to head south and cross into Ethiopia. Whilst we both loved Sudan we were looking forward to escaping the dust and heat, however neither of us really anticipated how truly different the two countries are from each other.

Arrival Ethiopia and some much needed Dutch courage

Like many people I’ve spoken to – my initial perception of Ethiopia is about 20 years out of date, starving children and dry, barren land. After a simple border crossing (finally!) these views were quickly proved wrong -. Ethiopia is so surprising lush and green that you will find yourself taking 100’s of photos of hills and mountains within your first few hours of arriving. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when a kiwi says somewhere is green, it’s pretty freaking green!

Our first stop was Tim & Kim’s campsite on the shore of Lake Tana. Tim and Kim are a Dutch couple who founded the site 6 years ago and have since worked at turning the land into a combination of campsite pitches and chalet styled housing. The property employs 19 people form the local village so is beneficial for tourists as well as the local community.

T&K have many things going for them at their property, great views, amazing food, location on the lake….however after over a week in Sudan our initial interest was in one thing and one thing only, a nice cold beer! We spent the afternoon chatting with them over some drinks about both our trip so far and what had brought them to settle on Lake Tana.

We spent 2 nights here relaxing as well as exploring the village and meeting some locals (Wynand upsetting many by beating them in a game of foosball, which they seem to play all day everyday outside the local shop), we also took a tour of the church that was built in the 1300’s and has all the original features and artwork – it was nice to compare this style of Christian structure to what we have seen in Europe. Tim & Kim’s Village is for a great spot to relax and enjoy some local culture for anyone overlanding through this part of Africa.

It’s not always the destination – it’s the journey

Following a few days of chilling it was time to get back on the road, we continued our drive through the Ethiopian Highlands towards Lalibela.

They say its not the destination – it’s the journey and that is absolutely true for driving in the Highlands. On the road to Lalibela we reached heights of 3500m with the most incredible vistas imaginable. Earlier on in our trip we drove through the Swiss Alps, which at a measly 1900m above sea level seems to pale in comparison.

Along the way we had groups of children and families waving and greeting us, as well of hundreds of donkeys, camels, goats and cattle to contend with for road space.

Eventually we arrived in beautiful Lalibela where we met Suzy, the Scottish owner of Ben Abeba restaurant – literally plonked on top of a hill and offering 360 views of the valleys below. We enjoyed an evening of local cuisine while chatting to a lovely British guy and his two Ethiopian friends who all got to know each other via a love of Ethiopian cuisine and Facebook.

Suzy was kind enough to let us camp on her property so we woke in the morning to even more amazing views and fresh mountain air.

Bale Mountains

After a quick rest in Addis Ababa we headed south The Bale Mountains where we would spend two nights in different locations.

The first day we arrived at the Dinsho Lodge camp site to pouring rain and hail, after searching long and hard and getting absolutely saturated we established that we have misplaced our waterproof ponchos so decided to drive back to the town to wait out the weather.

Finally the weather came right and we could return to camp, I left Wynand to do the manly things like set up the tent and make a fire while I went off to make friends with the local wildlife.

The next morning we were up early to go for a hike, we were lucky enough to see a large group of Nyala, a family of Warthogs (Pumba’s!!), Klipspringer, Eagles and Vultures.

Then it was off to the next campsite, en route we stopped at a local garage where we got chatting to a guy called Milion, an Ethiopian who spends his time between Bale and Addis, he invited us to lunch where we were served beef two ways – raw and cooked. The raw came out first, I’m a huge fan of Carpaccio however seeing beef in huge raw chunks is not something I’m used to – putting all my western ways to one side I ate it along with the accompanying dressing and found it really enjoyable (if a little chewy). I did prefer the second course of cooked meat over coals more – but it was nice to have a local share a traditional meal with us.

Having had our protein fix for the day it was on to our second stop in Bale National Park – the Bale Plateau. The Zeb climbed and climbed until we reached out current height of 4,400m above sea level. The landscape is surreal – wide open veld with tiny white flowers that makes it look like snow has fallen. It feels like we are on top of the world and is an incredible (and incredibly cold) place to camp. In the morning we hope to catch a glimpse of the Ethiopian fox but in the meantime its time for a self heating emergency dinner and a read of my book as I get ready to sleep on top of the middle of nowhere!

What I have learnt so far:

1)      Be open to foods – when people from another culture try and explain a dish to you it can be lost in translation leaving you ordering a spag bol ‘on the safe side’. Be brave and simply walk into a restaurant and ask the staff to prepare you a meal. You’re bound to be blown away by the flavours. All the meals we ate we had no idea what was coming, and they were some of the most delicious dishes I have tasted.

2)      Always keep the car doors locked – as we were stopped in a village someone opened our rear passenger door and stole a shirt of mine. I didn’t write this in the main body of the blog as it certainly isn’t a reflection on Ethiopia – more an opportunist child. But it taught us a lesson in security going forward.

3)      Don’t be fooled by its ‘Africa’ status…parts of Ethiopia are FREEZING (have I mentioned that already?!)

4)      Cutlery is a foreign concept – get ready have messy hands as you eat.Image

Day 37 – Day 44: T.I.A

Although we officially landed on African soil when we crossed the Suez Canal, it has only been in the last week that The Middle East has become a distant memory and the mantra of T.I.A (This is Africa) has become real.

After waving goodbye to The Zeb we had a few days waiting for the passenger ferry that would take us down to Wadi Halfa in northern Sudan. While it was nice to unwind – we both found you can’t really relax in Egypt, this is a country on the brink of exploding and the tension is apparent everywhere, for obvious reasons tourism is low and every time we stepped out to explore we were constantly hounded for money, touched and yelled at to see if we wanted a felucca/taxi/tour guide…it was draining.

The day the passenger ship left for Sudan we had a quick stop at the embassy to pick up our visas. It was slightly risky sending the car ahead without these but because we only had 6 weeks to plan the trip in London we couldn’t get these before we set off. Once we were sorted it was off to Aswan Port where journey from Egypt to Sudan would begin.

Culture Shock and Claustrophobia

Boarding the ferry to Sudan was an adventure in itself – these boats run purely on the schedule set by the notorious owner of the ferry route. After our boat sailed there was at least a 2 week wait until the next one departed. Because of this uncertainly the boats are absolutely packed to the rafters – not just with locals but with what seems like every item from their home as well (If you think I’m exaggerating there were fridges and microwaves being carted on board!!). We luckily met some wonderful fellow overlanders so at least could stick together through the madness – however all of us got separated as soon as we walked on board and into a barrage of items being tossed above our heads, people pushing us and yelling in our faces. We started by looking for a place to sit downstairs but after being told not so politely and very firmly by some Egyptian mamas we were moved to the outside decks.

This started out as a great experience; warm air, sailing along the Nile and watching the sunset – however as the night came it became obvious why none of the locals were in the same spot as us – the wind came of the desert and was relentless and cold. Needless to say none of us slept very well that night. Poor Wynand finally manged to doze off on the empty bow of the boat when at 4am a local man decided that he wanted to pray in the exact spot he was sleeping, words were said rather loudly in Afrikaans (which is when you know he’s not happy) and that was our wake up call for the day!

Getting off the boat proved just as interesting, after a quick meeting with the security police we were able to disembark – again this was easier said than done. With my heavy pack on I was a target for people pushing past me, one old man was very determined that he was going to get past and with an almighty shove I ended up on my bag, arms and legs flailing like a turtle while people went about their business stepping over me to get off.

So after much yelling, elbowing and pushing we had done it…survived the night and arrived in Sudan, ready and excited to see what this country had to offer.

Sudan – land of smiles

After a relatively pain free wait it customs the zeb was ready to go, we joined the lovely Gita and Cornelius, who we met in Aswan and decided to set up camp on the outskirts of Wadi Halfa along with their Mitsubishi ‘Bushie’.

One first attempt to camp off road saw the zeb get stuck – with a bit of digging, revving and pushing we managed to get her out – Bushie 1, Zeb 0! We continued on, set up camp and enjoyed a lovely meal of food brought at the Wadi Halfa market under the stars.

The next day it was back to Wadi Halfa for a few hours of admin (quick oil check along with registering at the local police station – which needs to be done within 3 days of arriving in the country) Then it was off to find our next camp site, we found a beautiful village about 170km north of Dongola on the Nile. After checking with the locals we set up camp, throughout the afternoon we had a steady stream of local villagers coming to say hello see our cars and to bring us copious amounts of fresh dates. They were so friendly and genuine and it was an amazing experience to meet a group of Sudanese people who normally wouldn’t see western over landers coming through their small part of the world.

The next day Wynand and I set off early and drove to the Nubian Pyramids of Meroe. The site contains over 200 pyramids in 3 groups and the site was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries. Nowadays the area is empty and we were fortunate enough to be the only people around so could enjoy such historical ruins with no one in sight.

We camped over at the base of the pyramids and in the morning as we packed up we were greeted by a local man on his camel, who was more than happy for us to go for a ride on ‘Abdul’. An amazing way to start any day!

After the quiet of the past few days we drove to Khartoum, capital of Sudan. Here we are taking great pleasure in enjoying the simple things in life – showers, food and constant water supply. We’ll remain here until our car gets services on Saturday and then its south to Ethiopia.

Sudan has proved to be a surprizing experience. Throughout the country we have met people that have a genuine warmth and kindness to them. They don’t ask for money or expect anything from us – all they want is for people visiting their country to have an incredible time, which we have done so far.

What I have learnt so far:

1)      You really can depend on the kindness of stranger. Along the way we have had some minor car issues, all of which quickly resolved by locals you are more than happy to direct us to a local mechanic and translate to ensure we get things sorted out smoothly.

2)      Running naked in the desert is a liberating experience – and I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves suddenly in the middle of nowhere!

3)      A smile and a handshake goes a long way when language won’t suffice.

4)      Sudan is beautiful and well worth visiting. Image