Arriving at Windhoek was easily one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It wasn't the bugs the size of small aircrafts flying around, nor the impending terror that was African animals, but the bitch at the customs desk.
Apparently I had been asleep when they gave us the required forms for entering the country. This woman showed me no mercy. She made me go to the back of the line, after two plane loads had already landed and lined up, to fill out the form. After lining up again and going to a different lady, I was told my passport had already been entered into the system. They made me go back to the original woman who sassed me again to the point of tears. She stared at me blankly, before nudging her colleague and said 'look at my girl, what is wrong with her?'
'I'm jetlagged, exhausted, and just been made to unnecessarily stand in two lines for another 45 minutes, I'm pretty annoyed' I explained.
She shook her head, 'you're stupid,' and handed me back my passport.
Welcome to Namibia!
small hiccup is not an accurate representation of my trip to Africa, and is the only negative thing to come of what can only be described overall as a Lion King enthusiasts wet dream.
I arrived at Urban Camp, a glamping spot near to Windhoek's city centre. It was quiet, the taxi fare wasn't as cheap as I thought it would be and a lot of things were closed. Apparently it was a public holiday. That explains why the flights were so cheap. As always, being the excellent travel agent I am, I had managed to inconvenience myself yet again. I like to think I use all my energy on other people's trips, so there's not much travel agent energy left for my own. Luckily the glamping accommodation was on point, they had a cheap bar and it was walking distance to the nearest steakhouse. As soon as my travel buddy Dom arrived from his previous tour, we made a beeline for the steakhouse.
Joe's Beerhouse is probably the best place I have ever been to. The Savanna ciders are cheap, and they serve just about every game meat you can think of. Kudu,
crocodile, Ostrich and Oryx. The atmosphere is fantastic, most of the tables are big, and because it's so popular, they just put everyone with everyone. We sat with a Canadian girl, two Italians and 2 guys from Windhoek itself. It was a great way to make friends, discuss how good the meat was, and how cheap the beer was.
Things were great, life was good. Then one of the Namibians dropped the S bomb. Mentioned, nonchalantly, that he kept puff adders as pets. Like it was as normal as having a dog. I politely informed him that snakes were wild animals and that he ran the risk of serious injury and/or death. They left not long after, and we continued eating and drinking and enjoyed not being bitten or eaten.
We ended up staying there for lunch and dinner. Partly because the food was so good, and partly because the service was so incredibly slow that by the time we received lunch, we were already hungry for dinner. We had plates of meat and snails in a cheesy sauce. That's the moment I knew the next 3 weeks were going to be delicious.
After a 7:30pm bedtime to counter the jetleg, we were refreshed and ready for the first leg of the trip – Windhoek to Victoria Falls on a Nomads tour. Camping of course, because I'm the biggest tight ass when it comes to travel. I'd rather travel to 10 different countries on a shoestring than 1 or 2 countries in luxury.
We met the tour in a lodge out near the airport, and as 2 people were leaving, there were 3 of us joining. We exchanged pleasantries and got comfortable on the truck; we had a big day of driving ahead of us. We were heading to Botswana to camp for one night on our way to the Okavango Delta. I'd be lying to you if I told you I could point it out on a map, we were in the middle of nowhere.
We got to our camp and everyone started setting up their tents. My friend Dom is less of a tight ass than I am, but is too much of a good sport to argue with my itinerary. He took one look at the old, army style tents and sorted
us an upgrade to a small, very typical African hut. It was perfect, it looked like Tarzan might live there.
We sat around the campfire and watched the bushmen/san people do traditional dances and explain their culture to us. By 8pm most of the tour group were in bed. I convinced a few of them to stay up and play cards against humanity with us in the bar, but I had a feeling this wasn't going to be much of a party tour.
The next morning we did a walk with the same guys that were dancing around the fire. They showed us their traditional medicines and how they used the plants in their everyday lives. There was one plant that if you rubbed it on your gums, it turned your gums and teeth orange. Apparently the girls in the village use it to attract men. It looked like they'd just eaten too many orange m&m's or sucked on an orange popsicle. I made a mental note to try do that at home and see if it had the same effect on the Australian boys.
bush walk, we jumped back on the bus for another long day of travelling. Sitting on your butt on a bus in the heat really takes it out of you. I was constantly feeling tired, and all I felt like doing was sleeping and staring out the window. Luckily there was a reasonable amount to see to keep us interested. I saw the occasional warthog (affectionately called Pumba) and a few monkeys. We saw a dead honey badger, and a baby lion cub on the side of the road as well which was quite sad.
We headed to Maun which is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. We had the option of doing a scenic flight as soon as we got there, which Dom opted to do. I decided to stay at the camp and chill out, because as I have mentioned already, I am a tight ass. I have also flown a fair amount in my time. There was a bar that I sat myself in for a while and chatted to a few of the other tour members and some other camping guests. Dinnertime came around and the group from the scenic flight weren't back yet, despite being due back hours ago. Everyone started assuming the worst, and began planning their funerals.
The tour leader went to go and find them and discovered that rather than taking a $2 taxi ride back from the drop off point, they'd decided to walk the 6kms back to the campground. The leader wasn't overly impressed and Dom was positively livid. This is a man who will complain about walking between airport terminals, so an hour plus along an African roadside wasn't his idea of fun.
We had a lovely dinner that the tour leader cooked from the camp cookset attached to the truck. The food she produced from the most basic of cooking equipment was incredible, and no one went hungry. I always got seconds. I'd just go for runs a bit more when I got back home.
For the next two days we were being handed over to a local camping resort where we would spend two days on the banks of the Okavango Delta. We got picked up on the side of the road by a 4 wheel drive that took us off roading through the broken banks of the delta and through bush that was home to elephants, different types of antelope and crocodiles.
Once at camp, we went for a safari walk and saw our first elephant only about 500m away. It was incredible, and it felt like nothing else being in such close proximity to a wild animal in its own stomping ground.
We left him alone and went back to the camp to get ready for our sunset cruise. We went along the banks of the delta, looking at monkeys and different types of birds. When the sun went down, it screamed bright pinks and purples across the fading sky, it was the most Lion King of sunsets. I whisper sang 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' under my breath. Dom joined in.
We spent the next day on the delta as well, in little canoes that wove through the lily pads and water weeds that covered the delta's surface. It was bight and sunny and the water glistened, and it felt just like heaven. I closed my eyes and took a mental screenshot of the whole feeling.
We headed back to the big truck and settled in for another border crossing back into Namibia. We stayed at another campsite on the banks of the Chobe river which had signs all over the place warning of crocodiles. I didn't see any crocs, but I went for a short run up and down the driveway and saw a chameleon.
A small group of us decided to go for a longer run to stave off some of the Savanna and meat weight that we had clearly started putting on. We ran down the driveway and along the road. There was a big group of boys playing football and a few youngsters kicking around by the side of the road. They saw us and ran alongside us in their flip flops or barefeet, grinning ear to ear. They stopped by an old drainage pipe on the side of the road and did some back flips and twists off of it, while screaming, 'look at me, look at me!'
I stopped and watched, partly because they were pretty fearless and were throwing themselves all over the place, and partly because I didn't fancy running any further. I forget that I hate running. I ran back to the bar, to my happy place.
We continued on next to Kasane where we did a sunset cruise along the Chobe river. We were not at all prepared for the amount of animals we saw. Within a few minutes we had seen monitor lizards, crocodiles, buffalo and warthogs. The cruise lasted 3 hours, and there was not a single minute that didn't have an animal sighting in it. We saw elephants and buffalo's chilling together on a little island of water plants. There was a massive pod of hippos that ended up getting another boat stuck, as they only hang out in shallow water. Our boat tried to pull them out, getting stuck ourselves in the process. Another boat tried to help us and got stuck as well. Third time lucky! We managed to get out after a wee while, but no one was complaining as we had about 10 interested hippos right next to us.
We watched another incredible sunset, while flocks of birds flew across the tie-dyed horizon, making it almost insta perfect.
We did a game drive the next day and saw even more animals, easily the most I have ever seen in my life. It was such an amazing feeling seeing animals in real life that you've only seen on tv or in books growing up.
Our last night was spent in Victoria Falls, after crossing the border in Zimbabwe. A few pumbas had crossed the road near the border, so I knew we'd be in for a treat. We went straight to the falls and were given a few hours to wander round. Our guide strongly suggested ponchos or rain jackets, but it was so hot that we thought it'd be nice to get a bit chilly and wet. We took them anyway just in case. It was high water season, and as we walked around the national park we did get a little bit of spray from the falls which was nice.
The falls were so loud and intense and everything I hoped they would be. As we walked around to the main falls it started feeling like winter in England. A thin mist clouded our vision and there was moisture in the air. Walking further it was suddenly a monsoon. I don't think I've ever been that wet in my life. Torrential rain, which was only the result of the falls, absolutely drenched us and almost gave us hypothermia. We ran back to the bar to seek solace.
Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and waved at the pumbas, baboons and mongoose (mongeese?) on the sides of the road. What a life, to live here and have that as a normal occurrence.
Now there's something I like to do when I travel, to meet new people, in places that it may not be as easy to meet people in bars and hostels. I call it Tinder tourism. It's like having a free local guide, and you get to vet them a bit beforehand on social media. You match with someone on Tinder, have a chat, have a facebook stalk and then meet them in a public place. This is how I met my new friend from Bulawayo.
That night he took us to the banks of the Zambezi river, told us some of the history of the place, and what it was like to live there, and we saw a herd of elephants crossing the road. The next day when Dom did a scenic helicopter flight over the falls, he took me hiking around the gorge and down near the bottom of the falls. It was such an amazing experience.
This day marked the end of our Nomads tour, and we'd had a relatively mundane last dinner the night before. We had one more night in Vic Falls and a few others from the tour did too, so we went to a place called Boma for dinner. It was relatively expensive by African standards ($50 US for a buffet dinner) but it also included a drumming session with the local performers. It was easily the most fun I had up until that point, because as soon as the drums came out (by which point our bellies were happily full of all sorts of game meat) everyone's faces lit up. The guys on stage were great at getting everyone amped up and drumming along to the beat. Well most of us were drumming along to the beat. Dom was pounding his drum to his own beat, grinning ear to ear. Everyone was laughing and singing and pounding their drums and having a great time. It was the perfect end to our first leg of our journey.
The next day we headed across the border to Zambia to catch our flight to Johannesburg. This was probably the thing I was most nervous about, having heard all the horror stories of car jackings and kidnappings and I was ready for this to be the end.
We'd planned ahead and sorted a taxi with our hotel in Melville. The guy took us to the hotel without incident. So far so good. The hotel had a big gate with locks and bolts and codes. Even better. The receptionist said that the area was really safe, which really put my mind at ease so we decided to venture out for dinner.
The street 5 minutes walk away was akin to Brooklyn, NY or Brixton, London. Hipster bars, dive bars, cool pizza joints and funky little restaurants lined the street. Tripadvisor recommended a pizza place that many people had claimed had the best pizza in Johannesburg. Dom was hankering for a pizza, so it was was meant to be. We had a massive pizza each, a glass of wine and an espresso for less than $10 per person.
People wandered up and down the street, chatting and smiling seemingly without a care in the world. My visions of everyone cowering in terror vanished. I didn't let my guard down too much, but definitely relaxed a bit. We found a place with free pool and cheap drinks and settled in for the night.
The next day started bright and early with a long drive to Kruger. By this point I had certainly figured out that most things worth seeing in Africa required a ridiculous amount of driving. If you're a tight arse that is. You could fly, but the journey there is just part of the adventure.
We were to spend the next 3 full days in Kruger, and it was going to be nice to settle in one place for more than 2 nights. My expectations were pretty low. We'd seen loads of animals in Chobe, and we had booked the absolute cheapest camping safari possible.
I was absolutely blown away by Outlook safaris. I had never even heard of them before, and neither had any of my travel agent buddies. We arrived and were greeted like royalty. Which is confusing as Dom and I are the exact opposite.
First on the agenda was an evening drive with SAN parks (South African National Parks), but we had a bit of time beforehand to check out the campsite (Pretoriaskop, the smaller of the two in that area). There was a pretty cool 'human watering hole' a Wimpy burger joint, a gas station and a small supermarket. Not at all what I expected inside Kruger.
We went on our game drive, and while it had been about 30 odd degrees during the day, it dropped so suddenly as soon as it got dark. Despite mumsying Dom and telling him to wear a jersey, he didn't, and he almost caught pneumonia. It was a good little drive around, didn't see loads and started getting pretty hangry and fidgety.
We got back to the camp, and it was just a french guy, Dom and I for the first night. They had prepared a candlelit dinner by the campfire for us. A 3 course meal, with unlimited wine. UNLIMITED WINE. This was the best thing ever. And it wasn't a special occasion, we had this for 3 nights. The food was out of this world. It was the same level of what you'd expect to receive at a 5* restaurant, except this was prepared in a marque with camp cooking equipment in a bloody national park. Incredible.
We enjoyed the warmth of the fire for a bit then headed to our tents. Even our tents were fancy, pre erected with actual beds, electricity and cosy blankets. Heaven.
Early start again the next morning for a game drive with just the 3 of us. That's another thing about Africa. Long travel times, and everything happens at the crack of dawn. The game drive with Outlook was so much more personal. They also had ponchos lined with fleece which were the cosiest things in the world, and stopped Dom complaining about the cold which was a bonus. We saw hyenas, elephants, buffalo and loads of other animals that day. The only animal that we didn't manage to see really close to the truck were rhinos, we only saw them from a distance.
We did a day trip to the Panorama route as well and saw stunning gorges and waterfalls, something I had no idea about, and it's only a few hours from Kruger. On the drive back we saw a leopard walking along the road. It was so close you could touch it, and we followed it as it ambled along for about a kilometre before it disappeared into the bush.
We had a few days of rain in Kruger which wasn't great for seeing animals as they all hid and sheltered. On our last day on a morning game drive we got very lucky though, as we stopped near a hyena's den and there were 3 or 4 baby hyenas who were super playful, like puppies. They played around our truck, hid underneath it, and bit at the bottom of it. It was a great experience to finish off our safari.
We headed back to Johannesburg to catch our flight to Port Elizabeth to meet two more friends and drive the Garden Route to Capetown. Namibia was the place Dom really wanted to see, and we both agreed on Vic Falls and Kruger as big bucket list places, but the Garden Route was something I had always wanted to do. It was going to be 5 days of adventure activities, exploring, wine and food.
We spent a night in Port Elizabeth and then picked Liam and James up at about midday before heading straight for Plettenberg Bay. We drove through Jefferies bay and had lunch at Steers, kind of the South African equivalent of Burger King. Everywhere we looked it was stunning, the beaches were beautiful and the rolling hills in the distance reminded me of New Zealand.
We got to our hostel in Plet and it was everything you would want in a hostel, it had a cheap bar, an awesome outdoor area with hammocks and a braii (barbeque). We went straight to the supermarket and stocked up on game meat and these amazing coconut covered marshmallows. We spent the evening around the braii, cooking up a storm, drinking Savanna ciders and socialising with all our new friends.
We travelled the next day to Mossel bay and took a detour up to Oudtshoorn where there is a wildlife park. We drove along the coast which was beautiful and then headed up into the mountains. As we were heading to the wildlife park, I saw a sign for Ostrich riding, and decided it must be done. I have no issues with heights, no massive fears of much else, but birds really get me. Dom and I got swooped by magpies a few months earlier in Perth and it was easily one of the most terrifying moments of my life.
Turns out the weight limit for ostrich riding is 80kgs, so I was going to be the only one able to do it. Great. A lonely, bird related death.
The boys weren't too keen anyway but I needed to conquer my fear. I jumped on the weirdly solid and prickly bird and held onto it's wings for dear life while it sprinted around the paddock at what I can only assume was at least 100 km/h. I lasted about 20 seconds and that was enough for me. $6 well spent. To keep the boys happy as well, we fed some giraffes at the same place for $1 each. They were like big horses, the way they ate, but they have massive blue tongues which was pretty creepy.
We continued on to Cango wildlife park, where we could do animal encounters. James and Dom did a cheetah one and Liam and I went and saw the lemurs. A ring tailed lemur sat on our shoulders, and let us pat it. It was like being in Madagascar.
We headed onward to Mossel Bay, driving through the mountains and watching the most incredible sunset. I couldn't get over the sunsets here, it was like they had at least 10 extra, different colours and shades in them.
We had a 3 bedroom apartment in Mossel bay with a braii out front. We did the same as the night before and grabbed a load of meat and boxes of Savanna cider and cooked up a braii. I'm pretty sure if I had cut myself at that point, I would have bleed Savanna cider. We had a chilled night, and I pulled out the tinder tourism and arranged for us to have a surfing lesson the next morning.
We met our tinder instructor early the next morning and spent just over an hour flailing about in the water, swallowing mouthfuls of salt water and sand. I was hoping to have the whole baywatch look going on, but instead I just looked like a miserable seal.
James and I both managed to stand up and actually surf a few waves which was awesome. It helped that the instructor was extremely good looking as well, so that gave me more motivation.
We warmed up with a hot cup of coffee and then headed to some caves on the coast. We checked out the caves at the lighthouse in Mossel, and went for a walk along the cliffs edge. There were loads of large rodent type creatures chilling out on the rocks that were super cute. We looked around then headed off towards Hermanus.
We stopped off along the way at a winery for lunch. Seeing as we were coming into the wine regions, I figured it would be rude not to. I couldn't get over how cheap things were around here, we all had drinks, a large meal and dessert and it was barely $10 each. We did our first wine tasting there as well, and it was $3 and you got to keep the wineglass. I still have mine!
We got to Hermanus and checked into our hostel. Cheap bar onsite and a pool table, fantastic. We made a new American friend and we all went out to dinner. We had been told of a tapas place just up the road that we decided to go check out. We accidentally sat down in the wrong restaurant, where they gave us cosy blankies to have on our laps and poured us glasses of water before we realised and awkwardly left.
The tapas were amazing and I ate enough for 3 people, and drank enough for 3 people also. We headed back to the hostel in a very merry mood.
The next day we were all shark cage diving, something that's been on my bucket list since forever. I had it in my mind that we'd be fully submerged and well below the boat, but we were in a small cage that was only partially submerged and attached to the boat. It was still an incredible experience and we saw two great white sharks that were right next to us in the water. We took turns at going in the cage and even when we weren't in the cage, we could see the sharks as they broke the surface. It was insanely cold but definitely worth it.
After the shark diving and a nice hot lunch there, we headed towards Capetown via the wine region. Our first stop was in Franschoek at a seemingly very upmarket winery. We did a tasting of 6 wines and 6 paired cheeses for $6, which is a pretty high price for South Africa. The tastings were easily half a glass each and we were already very merry after this. We moved on to a second winery just down the road and did another tasting in their expansive outdoor area. It was everything that I had hoped for and more. Multiple wine tastings with gorgeous backdrops and awesome friends.
We left and went to Stellenbosch for dinner at an amazing steak place. We ordered chataeaubriand which you could cut with a spoon it was so tender. We went all out and gorged on the steaks and desserts and more wine. This was probably one of the more expensive meals that we had, bar Boma, but it was still only $30 or so.
We headed into Capetown for our final two nights. We were meant to be in the same place for both nights but the hotel had messed it up, so we stayed in two different apartments about 15 minutes from each other.
We stayed our first night then got up early the next morning to hike up table mountain. James and I did it in about 1 hours 40 minutes despite it recommending 2.5 hours. Liam and Dom took the cable car up and met us at the top. Despite being afraid of heights Dom had insisted that we do the abseil off the top of the mountain. I needed absolutely zero convincing, this was right up my alley. The abseil was the best experience, we got 360 degree views whilst dangling from a rope after we'd bounced off the rock wall for about 50m, then hit an overhang and just, well, hung out. We spun around, taking in the coastal views, the city and the mountains in the background. And then it was over, and we had to walk back up.
We took the cable car back down which spun around slowly so you got more 360 degree views. We then took the coastal route past Camps Bay and Bantry Bay and had lunch in Sea Point at a cool burger joint.
It was our last night in Capetown, and the last night of our trip, so we decided to go out with a bang. We went back to the second apartment and had a nap and started getting ready. We were heading to Long street, the main drag for locals and tourists alike (mainly tourists) for a few quiet drinks.
We met loads of new friends, some best friends for life. We made plans to travel the world together and to keep in touch and we touched on deep topics and counselled each other. It's a shame we don't have their names or contact details. We danced the night away and had an absolute blast. Until reality hit and it was 8:30am and we needed to be at the airport in 2 hours.
I hate airports and flying at the best of times, but after a big night of no sleep, it's even worse. I said goodbye to my buddies and stepped into 25 hours of sweet hell.
Africa was above and beyond what I expected, the countries we went to were absolutely stunning, and the people were fantastic. It was very easy to forget their troubled pasts and high crime rate in some places. We were lucky to not have any hiccups at all on our trip, but we always had our wits about us, and while there were sober reminders at times of these issues overall it is a continent worth keeping at the top of your bucket list
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