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Looking along the ridge and down onto Cape Town and False Bay
Just after we crossed over the Orange River and back into South Africa, we came across a springbok in the road. Its instinct to run had no doubt served it well in the past, but with wire fences either side, an escape plan based on trying to run down a road faster than the Mercedes truck that was following it was doomed to failure. After a few minutes in this unlikely chase the driver was eventually able to encourage what must have been an exhausted springbok to one side of the road.
Unfortunately as we started to pass it the animal gave the lie to its name and revealed the true extent of its fatigue. We could see what was about to happen and, like watching a car crash the instant before it happens, looked on helplessly as the poor creature attempted to leap the fence, failing spectacularly and at speed. Crashing headlong into the fence its momentum carried the body half way through the wire, pulling the neck back round at a sickening angle.
Trapped and lifeless, it looked like it had broken its neck. In a cruel land where animals such as these have to be slaughtered
False Bay Coastline
From near the Cape of Good Hope
daily if other animals aren’t to starve to death this was the most upsetting sight we had seen. The relief in the truck when it started kicking as our driver approached to free it was palpable, more so when he released it to the other side of the fence and we watched it spring into the bush without so much as a limp. Tough little fella, but very very stupid. Arrivals
This was the end of our speed safari through southern Africa. One last night under canvas, a sweeping view of mountain and valley at Pickenierskloof Pass, and a hint of the blaze of colour from flowers just beginning to blossom after the rainy season later saw us arriving back in Cape Town.
We had originally arrived in Cape Town 27 days earlier. The first few days were spent in the local area where we did easy settling in things; touring the local bays, whale spotting, watching African cape penguins, lugging nine back-breaking kilograms of semi-professional camera equipment and a bloody laptop up the side of Table Mountain, that sort of thing.
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to hike up
From Table Mountan
Looking roughly north
that damn mountain instead of taking the cable car to the top as C quite sensibly did. The equipment came along because I thought that some of the Cape Town populace are not counted amongst the world’s most law abiding (and if you find this statement disagreeable, be sure to read on to the end). If I was going to lose all that stuff right at the start of the holiday I wanted it to go as a result of the impact that would have been the final event in the sequence; over exertion - cardiac arrest - fall down mountain
, not because some tea leaf took a shine to it.
As it turned out, the camera equipment was pretty much just along for the ride anyway. In an early indication of what was to come whilst C got to enjoy the spectacular views of the city and its environs for some two hours, the rest of our group (or more accurately, I) took so long to hike it that there was barely 10 minutes for us at the top before we had to take the cable car down. South Africa
What else can I tell you
The truck, the fire, the group. Botswana.
about South Africa? To the east of Cape Town is Stellenbosch, heart of the wine region hereabouts. The journey there took us, like hobbits fleeing before the Nazgul, speedily and without pause through some spectacular cloud stroked mountain scenery that could have come straight out of, well, Mordor. Sadly, the wines we sampled were less than legendary, though to be fair we did opt for the cheaper wine and cheese tasting experience and did nevertheless manage to find a couple of bottles that succeeded in warming us on subsequent nights. The Caldera in particular was a cheeky little number with just a hint of… Oh who am I trying to kid? It tasted nice and we slugged it back like beer.
One of our group was so impressed by the Camembert here that she bought some, though sadly she was not so impressed that she remembered where she stored it. We learned as the tour progressed of her prowess at mislaying things, usually her sunglasses. Unfortunately whilst the sunglasses would invariably turn up eventually, the cheese never did. We would catch a whiff of gas in the truck every now and then though, and I’m sure our boots can’t
Looking back across the ridge
be held solely accountable for the rather pungent odour we could occasionally smell in the tent. I suspect that the cheese had been secreted about our possessions in revenge for an unfortunate incident one night not long after Stellenbosch, involving a case of mistaken tent identity on our part and a consequent rude awakening on hers.
Our last South African stop on the way to Botswana was Kimberley where diamonds were discovered in 1871 and where, in the intervening years they have been replaced by a very big hole in the ground (the world’s largest hole dug by hand, I believe). There’s more to South Africa I’m sure than is related here. We passed on the option to visit Robben Island, the location of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration (and the poorer I think we are for it), but the Itinerary did not include much of what is on offer in this land rich in natural and historical treasures. The Truck
The truck had been our daytime home for almost a month. A converted Mercedes lorry with what was effectively a reinforced steel and glass cabin dropped onto the back; it had a capacity of 16 fee paying passengers
if you measure these things by seats, 15 if you measure them by seatbelts, or 8 if measured by the ability of the space to accommodate passengers and their day packs comfortably. Fortunately our group was the last of these in number, though I pity the group who are travelling (as I write) on the next tour which we learned is booked to full capacity (as measured in seats). I hope they are all very friendly people with minimal day time needs and even less concept of personal space.
Even more fortunately for us, and to the credit or our driver, we were never required to depend for our lives upon the seatbelts which, restricted in design to lap straps would have served only to ensure that one’s head was propelled onto the unpadded metal frame of the seat in front. That these structures were strong enough to withstand such a blow could be inferred by the way two of our party hobbled about, air around them thick with expletives (which one of them impressively did not vocalise), after unfortunate collision incidents involving knees and seat fixings.
To be fair, the more vocal of these victims actually turned
out to be generally challenged in the coordination department. Even at the end of the tour with almost every stop you could close your eyes and divine whether it was his turn to be sat on the raised seating in the back by the soft ‘boink’ noise generated as his head collided with the roof when he left his seat. He also once took the term ‘Pom bashing’ (for he was one half of the antipodean couple) to a whole new level when he suddenly let go of the unlatched side storage door panel he was holding up.
At the time I was crouched down immediately under this door filling a bowl from the truck water supply. Now that gravity was in charge of things the panel swung down on its hinges until it found my head blocking its earthward progress. I can tell you that the door was as robustly constructed as the rest of the truck and that I was a good deal more vocal in my reaction than either knee incident victim. He was most apologetic and such a nice person that I could not be angry with him even as the headache pounded. Departures
So the truck had delivered us safely back to Cape Town where heavy rain, laundry facilities and comfortable beds greeted us. After one last group dinner C and I were dropped off at a local hotspot in downtown Cape Town for some live music and dancing. Eventually turfed out at closing time, there was talk of walking back to the hotel but even in our inebriated state we recognised the folly of such a plan and caught a taxi. This, it turned out, was a wise decision, and not only because the driver was a very nice chap indeed.
In the airport smoking lounge (and God bless you South Africa for that small mercy) we met a honeymoon couple who were heading back home, at considerable expense, after just two nights in country. They had been mugged at knife point the previous evening and were now going home a wedding ring, amongst other valuables, to the poorer. They had only been walking to the pub over the road from their hotel. Give us the lions and the hippos any time. A Verdict
Would we recommend this tour to others? Yes and no. In the bizarre parallel
universe where we are able to jump forward in time and ask ourselves, in retrospect should we go on this tour, the answer would tend to be no. If the question was however; should we travel to these places then the answer is an emphatic yes.
Whilst the organisers back at the office and in the tour crew undoubtedly put in a lot of unseen effort behind the scenes to smooth our progress, we don’t believe we went anywhere that we could not have managed ourselves with a hired vehicle, albeit a 4x4 in some places, and camping equipment. Roads, even the gravel tracks in Namibia, were good everywhere, amenities never too far away and the attractions easily identifiable even if there hadn’t been hordes of overland trucks like ours to follow. You don’t need to be Dr Livingstone to travel these parts nowadays.
An organised tour is almost certainly a significantly cheaper option, financially and probably ecologically, than doing the trip independently. As a last minute decision joining one also eliminated the not insignificant amount of planning we would otherwise had to have done. The cost however, and a significant one at that, was the infringement on
Sunrise - Last Camping Night
In South Africa, near Clanwilliam
our freedom to enjoy this superb region at our own leisure, and that at the end of the day is what travel is all about. This is not a criticism of the specific tour we took. Although its particular itinerary was indeed ambitious it was a timescale that best suited our plans and which we knowingly signed up for. Any organised tour would have demanded the same compromise to some degree or other.
Having said that, this tour did provide one advantage that independent travel rarely allows us. It brought together a great bunch of people whose company significantly enhanced our enjoyment of the experience. I’m not sure that the tour company can take any credit for this, especially as they would have preferred twice the numbers, but it was a great mix of all ages and backgrounds, even if a tad over represented by geography teachers (joke), and they all made excellent travelling companions.
Africa, or at least this part of it, was nothing like we expected and in places everything we expected. The only major disappointments were a cancelled balloon flight over the Namib Desert, the fact that we never saw a cheetah and, for my
Deadvlei, Namibia (Blogged in Pt III)
part at least, less dramatic scenery than I had hoped for in places. The wildlife we did see more than made up for that. If you ever get the opportunity, we can heartily recommend a visit to this part of the world, even if you have to go on a Speed Safari to do it. Just take a taxi if you go out in Cape Town, even if the pub is only over the road. N.B.
As well as images of South Africa to which this chapter relates, I’ve included some that did not make the initial cut for their respective chapters. The dune pictures in particular were rejected because on the whole they failed to show the deep orange of the sand. The examples here have been post processed to reduce the original over-exposure. So much to learn. Snippets
I kept an increasingly patchy journal for all of ten days before I gave up on it completely so these Africa blogs have been written largely from memory since returning. Now that they’re finished I realise that I have left a few things out. This is because I have remembered them only after publishing the relevant chapter,
Deadvlei, Namibia (Blogged in Pt III)
or perhaps couldn’t find a way of working them into the narrative there, or because they have become orphaned memories, the exact circumstances of the moment already lost...
...A baby elephant kicking up dust as it developed its charging skills by practising them on a bird.
...Another baby elephant (how is it that they are so cute?) emerging from swampy water as it desperately tries to keep up with the adult it’s doggedly(?) following (pictured above).
...Sat waiting for pizza at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Swakopmund, watching the sun being swallowed up by the sea, and perceiving fully for the first time ever that it isn’t the sun that’s moving, it’s us, sat at that particular point on the surface of a planet that is spinning us away from the sun’s reach (which was a pity because when the pizza arrived it immediately started getting cold and I can not eat hot food once it’s gone cold).
...Listening to the thick Afrikaans accent spoken by the owner of the restaurant during our introductory group meal. Apparently Afrikaans is so close to the Dutch language that if spoken slowly each can understand the other. Whilst the sound
Sunrise in the Dunes
Sossusvlei, Namibia (Blogged in Pt III)
of spoken English does not generally compare favourably with some other languages I think ex-colonial English comes close, nowhere more so than here.
...The San people, briefly interrupting their traditional dance at our camp site near Ghanzi, Botswana, so that they could remove their less than traditional watches.
...Enjoying watching Kudu, a species of antelope, and feeling only slightly guilty at how good they taste.
...Reeds so infested with small birds at Namutoni water hole that the whole seething mass looked in the dark like a single squirming living organism. Very noisy and quite unsettling.
...The sound of a zip. When you’re camping everything has a zip. At bed time the noise of these things being worked, especially on the tents, can rival the roar of a lion nearby. We invariably turned in late as well. Sorry about that guys.
...The strange breed of frog as we camped near Clanwilliam, South Africa on our last night. The noise they make is like bones clacking together. I went to bed that night imagining a small army of human skeletons emerging out of the darkness at us. Brrrrr.
...Young vervet monkeys and kittens, almost the same
Dune 45, Namibia (Blogged in Pt III)
size as each other, the former occasionally tormenting the latter, scampering playfully about the camp ground at Livingstone.
...The end of tour quiz which I didn’t join in with, largely because I was so taken with the sights that I rarely listened to the tour leader’s attempts to educate us as to what it was we were seeing. C did impressively well, though teaming up with one of the geography teachers was a smart move. The prize went to the Aussie couple whom I watched as the quiz progressed consulting their diary for the answers. Shame on you Australia.
...The nightly reminder to take anti-Malaria pills after dinner. This memory stays particularly strong although that’s more to do with the fact that I have to keep taking them until the end of August. So far so good.
...The excitement at the first sightings of wildlife, like a child at Christmas. Impala, giraffes, even elephants, the great characters of the African bush, became such regular sights we would eventually more often than not just drive on without stopping when we saw them, but those first times…precious. The End (for now)
And here ends the African chapters
Etosha, Namibia (Blogged in Pt III)
of our world travels, for now. The next chapters involve a gutsy Mediterranean move that could see us in a lifestyle which permits sustained albeit seasonal travel without having to join the rat race or, if that doesn’t work, shouting "Big Issue
" from a street corner. Watch this space.
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